Guest Opinion: Outer Banks business owner urges ‘humanity before economy’

By Toby Gonzales

Dear County Commissioners,

I appreciate the letter that [Kitty Hawk Kites CEO] John Harris wrote and that the Outer Banks Voice published, in hopes of initiating a conversation about opening the beach, as we do need one!

First off, I feel that we do not know enough about this virus to let visitors to start trickling in. You can use any term you wish to scare others of potential calamity by calling it the “bankruptcy virus,” the school virus, etc… but it still does not change the real name of the actual virus.

The virus’ name is Covid19 and it is a “deadly virus.”

With Covid19, I have had to humble myself to the notion that if my business goes away in its current form then it is what it is, but if I have to bury a friend or at worst a family member because someone is worried about losing their accumulated wealth then I say that is unacceptable.

Scared of losing a business is nothing more than pure greed and is not the reason to force the opening of the beach.

“Humanity before Economy”
If a business owner remembers what it was like in 1974 then he must remember how small and close knit the community was back, then.

It was unique and close knit enough that an out of town entrepreneur was able to fulfil his dream of kites being bought in his store and flown from every vacation house, vacationers learning how to hang glide on Jockeys Ridge and the many other dreams that he has had that evolved into present day Kitty Hawk Kites.

I am sure that he remembers that the tourism season was Memorial Day to Labor Day and not a day longer.

I am sure that he remembers that the Outer Banks grew from small cottage courts, family run motel vacation spot into the bustling tourism destination that it is today.

And I hope that he remembers that his hard work, dedication and steadfast support of the Outer Banks as a “COMMUNITY” was an integral part and driving force for the growth of the Outer Banks. And that there was set aside a 1% of tax dollars that goes towards the Community Tourism Marketing budget!

But one thing that I want you to remember more importantly is that, just because the Outer Banks’ community has grown into a top US family vacation destination, behind the scenes it is still a full time year round community to the many locals and their kids. Arguably, it is the charm of that small cottage town and its PEOPLE that still drive the vacationers to us.

It’s not only about the hotels, the bars, the restaurants, or stores it is also about the people and the experiences vacationers have had with the water, the history; it’s the complete Outer Banks package.

Many vacationers I speak to and when the discussion turns to “why the outer banks for vacation?” it’s almost always them remembering the experiences with their grandparents, their aunts and uncles, nephews, cousins, the whole family tree. It very rarely because of a business.

I am not challenging John Harris on his right to his opinion, but I am challenging John Harris to not lose focus on what the Outer Banks was, is and will continue to be once we get a better understanding of Covid19.

Please help drive the conversation away from the “bankruptcy virus” and steer it back to the conversation that should be led by the scientific details of working with and around the Covid19 Virus.

I am all for opening access to the Outer Banks but please allow the opening of the beaches to be led by: (not a complete list but at least a bare minimum)

· Scientific data
(our numbers are low locally because of social distancing not because this virus is not real)
· Quick but reliable testing, testing and more testing
· Setting up guidelines for businesses moving forward
· A plan of attack on which people to allow on the beach
Do we require vacationers to visit with certified testing paperwork (maybe draconian… but a conversation worth understanding more for sure)
· A plan of attack when someone tests positive
(cleaning of the houses, contact tracing, transparency to the public, etc…)

The Outer Banks is a family vacation destination and will be a family vacation destination after Covid19. And I am willing to go out on a limb and say the Outer Banks would be the same if my restaurant was not here and Kitty Hawk Kites as well…

However, it would not be the same for me or anyone who had to vacation or live here without a family member or one of their friends being lost due to contracting a virus that could have been managed and handled by scientific data and not a blind willy nilly process of opening because business owners are scared of the “Big Bad Bankruptcy Virus”.

In the long term, if you think a vacationer would not have heavy reservation about returning, if ever returning at all, to the Outer Banks… if someone close to them passed away or contracted the virus because we did not have a plan of attack implemented, that was led by the scientific brain trust to handle an outbreak or coming in contact with an infected person of Covid19, that in turn caused a death while they are here or when they returned home from their vacation on the OBX.

Please remember this is a public health issue that yes is being compounded because it has economic ramifications but first and foremost this is a Public Health Issue!

In closing, yes Covid19 hits very close to home to me because not only am I a local Outer Banks business owner but I did grow up here since I was 4 years old, so the Outer Banks is my home and always has been!

Toby Gonzales owns Ten O Six breakfast and brunch restaurant and catering.