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“I don’t think the (hospitality) industry itself has yet come to terms with the full scope of every piece of minutiae that needs to be reimagined,” Steve Carvell, professor of finance in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, told USA TODAY.
Still, the industry is accommodating guests, aiding essential workers and homeless in local communities and adjusting offerings where it can — all in an effort to adjust to a new normal as the travel industry spirals and fights for government aid to overcome the crisis.
Hotels housing health care workers, serving as quarantine spaces
More than 15,000 hotels signed up for a new American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) initiative called “Hospitality for Hope,” which matches hotels with government agencies in need, offering temporary housing for emergency and health care workers amid the pandemic.
Decisions for which hotels are used to house health care workers are likely made primarily at the local level and related to proximity to hospitals, according to Carvell.
Hotels may be in a position to offer up rooms near a hospital they already have a relationship with, for things like when relatives of sick patients come to the area. In these scenarios, hotels reach out to hospital leadership to offer a discounted rate.
Cameron Lamming, chief development officer of Hostmark Hospitality Group, says the group’s San Diego, California, hotels are offering low rates near hospitals — though it won’t nearly be enough to make up money lost.
“This could absolutely mitigate some of the declines that we are seeing, but you are seeing rock-bottom rates for all hotels,” Lamming told USA TODAY.
Hotel occupancy in the U.S. the week of April 5 to 11 was down nearly 70% year-over-year, at 21%, according to STR data. “Several weeks of data also point to occupancy in the 20% range to be the low point, and economy hotels holding at a higher occupancy level is the pattern right now,” Jan Freitag, STR’s senior VP of lodging insights, said in a statement.
Some counties have purchased or leased hotels to house people who need to be quarantined, but don’t need intensive medical care, said Teryn Zmuda, deputy chief innovation officer for the National Association of Counties.
For example: hotels in the resort town of Ocean City, Maryland, have stepped up to offer hotel rooms for some patients with Sherry Jenkins, regional director of sales and marketing at the Pinnacle Hospitality Group, calling it a “win-win,” for hotels and health care workers.
Carvell referred to using hotels as quarantine spaces as a stickier issue. If hotel staff was in place, for example, questions would come up if they have the proper personal protective equipment like a hospital worker.
Plus, once this ends: “Does it want to be known as a hotel that housed quarantine individuals?” Carvell says. Proper sanitization procedures would then come into play.
Lamming initially thought there would be stigma, but feels this won’t be the case. “With so many premier hotels going this route (of becoming quarantine hotels), we do not believe it will impact these hotels going forward,” he said.
Hotel chains donating rooms, offering discounted rates to essential workers
Hilton and American Express is donating 1 million hotel rooms for medical professionals working on the coronavirus pandemic response. The rooms will be available to doctors, nurses, paramedics, emergency medical technicians and other workers through the end of May, according to Hilton.
Several Hilton hotels have worked with state and local authorities to house others, too, including law enforcement and those returning from abroad who may need to self-quarantine, Hilton spokesperson Meg Ryan told USA TODAY. Hilton Orlando has hosted the National Guard for more than a month.
For rooms not donated, rates vary: “While rates vary by group and location, we are working closely with organizations who are supporting the COVID-19 response to offer rates that will provide meaningful support to their members,” Ryan said.
Hyatt hotels, too, are offering discounted rates for health care and other essential workers at hotels like the Hyatt Place Bakersfield, Hyatt Place Columbus/OSU and Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, Mark Vondrasek, the chief commercial officer at Hyatt, told USA TODAY.
Marriott is donating $10 million in hotel stays for doctors and nurses. The company’s efforts are focused on the areas of the country most affected by coronavirus, including New York and Newark, New Jersey; New Orleans; Detroit; Los Angeles; Las Vegas and Washington.
It’s clear “free” programs like this are in high demand. A Hawaii program providing free hotel rooms to health workers responding to the coronavirus has been modified after the demand exceeded the number of available rooms.
The backdrop of all this, of course, is the financial reality: About 25% of Marriott’s 7,300 hotels around the world are temporarily closed.
Per the $2 trillion stimulus package signed by President Donald Trump last month, hotels and other travel providers will have to compete for loans from a $500 billion fund.
But there’s a mismatch when it comes to hotels’ needs, Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president for the U.S. Travel Association, told USA TODAY. Much of the money available to them is to pay staff salaries, but 60% of a hotel’s expenses are fixed costs, so they want the program modified to give them more latitude in how they use the federal money.
The association wants Congress to pass a $250 billion small-business loan measure, as well.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association sent a letter to Congress urging them to update the CARES Act on top of the funding increase. The organization also wrote a letter to the Federal Reserve and Treasury, hoping to stop the foreclosure of thousands of hotel properties.
Half of the hotels in the U.S. could shutter amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the AHLA told USA TODAY last month.
Hotels around the country are housing the homeless
As part of the “Hospitality for Hope” initiative, The Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs, New York, is serving as a temporary homeless shelter. A group of about 200 homeless people were taken from New Orleans streets to a Hilton Garden Inn and Quality Inn.
This is happening all over the country.
More than 100 older and medically vulnerable homeless people have been provided hotel rooms to protect them from COVID-19 before the coronavirus pandemic spreads within Salem, Oregon’s, unsheltered population.
Gov. Gavin Newsom in California launched an effort with the goal of housing 15,000 homeless people. The state received FEMA approval for 75% federal cost-share for the project.
People are checking into hotels, and some are using them as workspaces
Some hotels are serving as day workspaces, aka flex rooms. Before coronavirus, it wasn’t uncommon for people to book hotel rooms for meeting in small groups. “A hotel room with free WiFi might be worth it if you had a full day of Zoom/web meetings planned,” Carvell said. “We all know what it’s like when children and a significant other are using WiFi bandwidth while an important business meeting is going on.”
One such hotel is Hostmark’s The Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club & Bungalows, which is giving guests private workspaces in its poolside rooms for a day rate.
Hotels have also been advertising quarantine packages to guests as the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world.
Le Bijou Hotel & Resort in Switzerland, made up of repurposed luxury apartments, advertises them as “quarantine apartments” on its COVID-19 service page.
A 14-day stay in one of these apartments costs between $12,000 to $14,000 per day, not counting extra measures people may like while quarantining, Alexander Hübner, CEO and co-founder of Le Bijou, told USA TODAY.
If you do opt to stay at a hotel right now: David Sherwyn, a hospitality professor at Cornell University, says hotel companies are doing everything they can to make their environments and safe as possible. Some have even hired infectious disease consultants to advise them on the best way to keep hotels safe.
Contributing: Curtis Tate, Chris Woodyard, Jayme Deerwester and Deborah Barfield Berry, USA TODAY; Connor Radnovich, Salem Statesman Journal; The Associated Press