How Will Tourism, Hotels & Vacation Rentals Survive The Pandemic?
With states ordering residents to stay home and the Grand Traverse County Health Department cautioning visitors against non-essential travel to northern Michigan, how are tourism-reliant businesses – like Traverse City Tourism, hotels, and vacation rentals – planning to survive the pandemic?
Traverse City Tourism President/CEO Trevor Tkach acknowledges the short-term picture is grim. An estimated 75 percent of hotel rooms are closed across the region, including at major properties like Great Wolf Lodge, Park Place Hotel, and Crystal Mountain. Grand Traverse Resort & Spa only has a “select number of rooms” available in its tower, and all hotels are prohibited from offering traditional amenities like golf, gyms, pools, spas, entertainment facilities, bars, and in-house dining. At the few remaining hotels still open locally, only an estimated 10 percent of rooms are occupied. The abrupt plunge in stays has annihilated Traverse City Tourism’s budget, which is primarily funded by a five percent room tax on area hotel rooms.
Traverse City Tourism was previously on track to have one of its strongest years in recent memory. With hotels in Benzie County joining the organization effective March 1, Tkach says Traverse City Tourism was likely to bring in an $8 million budget in 2020 (compared to under $7 million in 2019). With its revenue stream suddenly evaporated, Tkach says the organization “made significant cuts immediately,” including shutting off all advertising and temporarily laying off 10 of 20 staff members. “We’re mindful of the fact we won’t have a lot of cash flow over the next months,” he says. “Those revenues aren’t there, and we don’t know when they’ll turn back on. We’re trying to conserve so we can get through to the other side of the crisis.”
It’s not just Traverse City Tourism but all tourism-reliant businesses that are likely to feel the pandemic’s impact, Tkach says, including accommodations, tours, retail, restaurants/wineries/breweries, and special events, which are already cancelling late into June. Traverse City Tourism has pivoted its operations to focus on sharing COVID-19 information with the community and connecting member partners with resources to help them survive the crisis, such as federal and state loans and grants.
“It’s hard, because you just made it through winter and were ready to start gearing up for spring and summer, and now the rug is pulled out from underneath you,” says Tkach. “It’s going to be a tough year. We can’t put on blinders. We know some of these businesses are going to go out of business. We’re not going to see the same list of businesses at the end of this crisis as we had at the beginning.”
Hotels that are still operational are focusing primarily on servicing guests working in essential industries, such as those staying locally to assist government or healthcare operations, says Jonathan Pack, director of operations for Superior Hospitality. Pack serves as general manager of Sleep Inn and Brio Beach Inn and assists with operations at Pointes North. “We’re not really seeing any leisure travelers or non-essential business travelers,” Pack says. Contact has been eliminated almost completely between staff and guests; guests who need an item must call the front desk, and the item will be left outside their door. “It totally goes against what we want to do in hospitality, but it’s how it has to be,” Pack says. Cough guards have been installed at the front desk, and staff hours cut back, particularly in housekeeping due to reduced room demand.
Tkach notes some local hotels are changing focus to meet the unique needs created by the pandemic, notably housing individuals experiencing homelessness – thanks to voucher programs that work to shelter individuals at high risk for COVID-19 – and front-line responders who need to quarantine or stay in isolation to protect their families. Pack says Sleep Inn works with Goodwill Inn to room individuals experiencing homelessness; Superior Hospitality is also considering dedicating Brio Beach to nurses and doctors who need a place to quarantine. Right now, all three hotels do not allow anyone to stay on-site who is sick or symptomatic, Pack says, and rooms receive a full sterilization after a guest’s ...
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