Amid business concerns, scaled-down Waste Management Phoenix Open gets underway

The Waste Management Phoenix Open brings in the big crowds every year, and many businesses, restaurants, and rideshare companies look forward to this time of the year.

However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, only 5,000 people are allowed in per day for 2021's open. In years past, 700,000 fans would usually attend the event during the entire weekend.

Some still see positives from the event

While WMPO is definitely a more scaled-down event compared to years past, it is still a big boost to the local economy, as restaurants and hotels have been hit hard by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"It is still an energy that is brought to the Valley," said Pam Gilbert, Director of Sales and Marketing with Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.

Officials with the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, which is located at the 18th hole, say they are thankful the event was able to move forward.

"Tourism needs support right now, and having just the cameras covering the Waste Management Phoenix Open nationally and internationally is huge for us, as we look forward to rebounding," said Gilbert.

The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is running at about 50% capacity, but every week, more visitors are beginning to arrive.

"We see demand starting to build, but we still need to reinvent, reimagine ourselves," said Gilbert.

Restaurants on their hotel grounds are once again filling up with visitors, and this momentum is building for other restaurants in the Valley too.

"Surprisingly, we have had more visitors come to Arizona than expected, and that has helped us," said Steve Chucri, President of the Arizona Restaurant Association.

Chucri says the restaurant scene in the state is picking up again, because it is finally the busy season, and the good weather is here.

"It is our busy season, and you have to make hay while the sun is shining, with our extended patio capacity," said Chucri.

Concerns persist for some businesses

Despite the rather upbeat outlook from some, there are business owners in the area who are concerned on how the COVID-related restrictions for 2021's open could impact them.

"Are you going to make enough money? Is it worth it?" Kendal Jackson asked.

Jackson is a full-time Uber and Lyft driver. He says he usually looks forward to the open, but 2021 is not starting off too well.

"I got a request, and they didn’t show up," said Jackson. "It'd usually be crowded, but I don’t see anybody. Today, that is a big worry. There is usually a lot of people here today, the first day. Where is everybody?"

The lack of attendees is a big concern for drivers, especially knowing how much money they can make under normal circumstances.

"Drivers can make a lot of money in a week. I mean a lot of money," said Jackson. "You can almost triple your money, so it really hurts if it’s not going to be even close to. If it’s close to normal, it’ll be alright. So it hurts. It is really rough right now."

It’s also a rough time for restaurants in the area. The ongoing pandemic has brought significant challenges for K O'Donnell's Sports Bar and Grill, as they will be losing out on what’s usually a very good week for them.   

"The Waste Management [Phoeix Open] brings people from all over the country. It’s unlike anything else you’ve seen. It’s just crazy, so financially, we are going to be down like 90% this weekend. It will be by far the biggest fall in these four days," said Jennifer O'Donnell.

O’Donnell, however, is hopeful.  

"It’s just going to be tough, but we can only do what we can do, and hope that we have enough sales to get through summer," said O'Donnell.

O'Donnell also said despite the negatives, the community has been doing the best they can in keeping local restaurants alive.

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