December 4, 2021

Hotels take hit from virus

They are open and empty, or maybe even closed

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Kelly Foster, general manager of Hampton Inn on River Street in Cortland, makes a bed Tuesday. Hotels in Cortland and across the country have seen large declines in room bookings, even as college commencement season begins, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tuesday morning was looking like the start of another quiet day with few guests at Cortland’s Hampton Inn, said general manager Kelly Foster.

She had six or seven rooms filled plus some contractors doing renovations on the hotel booked to stay Tuesday night.

This has become normal during the coronavirus pandemic. In the past six to eight weeks, she has had an average of 20 to 70 guests stay at her 69-room hotel during the week, she said, down from a typical 300 guests.

“I think it’s a first in my 20 years of hospitality,” she said. “I know a lot of people are saying it’s unprecedented and I would have to agree.”

General managers at hotels across the country have seen occupancy rates plummet because of travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, reports STR, a hospitality data and analysis firm.

Occupancy rates, the percentage of rooms sold, between April 19 to 25 dropped 62.2% from the same week in 2019, down to 26% of all rooms.

The average daily rate for a hotel room and revenue per available room also decreased from the same period last year, down 42.9% to $73.61 per day and down 78.4% to $19.13 for revenue per available room.

Additionally, 8.6 million rooms were booked last week, down from an average of 23 to 24 million booked per week.

“The declines are the steepest in our 35year history,” said Jan Freitag, the senior vice president of lodging insights at STR.

Freitag attributed this to businesses unable to meet or have conferences, and to layoffs alll but killing the leisure demand, he said.

“There is no market that is not being hit hard,” he said.

The “bright spot” is Chattanooga, Tennessee, at 51% occupancy, attributed to more people staying in hotels after tornadoes around Easter, Freitag said.

At Foster’s hotel, most of the guests have been essential workers traveling elsewhere or people moving relatives, she said.

Her hotel is losing out on college graduation bookings for SUNY Cortland and Cornell University, which tend to fill hotels at this time of year, Foster said.

That has meant cutting her staff from its normal 16 to 20 workers to eight workers and reducing their time worked as well.

“It’s pretty significant,” she said.

The decline in people staying in Cortland County hotels also means a loss in occupancy tax and sales tax revenue that help the county’s economy, said Garry VanGorder, the executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp.

These losses, along with the loss of jobs, are “highly damaging to the local economy, obviously,” he said.

Still, Foster’s hotel has been open and the lack of guests has meant fewer disruptions during the hotel’s renovations, which began in January, she said, although protocols have closed the fitness room and pool.

“It’s new but we’re managing it well, I believe,” she said

Other hotels like the Best Western Plus Finger Lakes Inn & Suites on Route 13 in Cortlandville have taken more severe routes in dealing with the pandemic. The hotel has been closed since March 13, said general manager Ravi Desai, out of caution to guests and his staff, one of whom is pregnant.

“You don’t know when people come in if they have the virus or not so that’s why I closed it down,” he said. “You don’t want to take chances.”

Closing has been hard on him and his staff, he said, but he will reopen Friday.

“We are not going to get an occupancy for another couple of months,” he said. “The more we delay opening, the more we will suffer in the future.”