The head of Maryland’s hotel association said a large number of its members will not recover from the coronavirus pandemic if the state does not provide more direct relief now.
With tourism, travel and hospitality reeling from the public health crisis and the ensuing restrictions put in place to curb it, hotels across the state may have to shutter for good, said Amy Rohrer, president and CEO of The Maryland Hotel Lodging Association.
In a letter sent Friday to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and state commerce secretary Kelly M. Schulz, Rohrer said the industry desperately needs a targeted, multi-million dollar relief effort similar to those already afforded to restaurants and small businesses, which the governor publicized at a news conference last month.
She said hotels have not qualified for much of the available relief funds, and the money they have received have gone to support keeping their employees on the payroll.
“We’ve become aware that this program isn’t targeted for an essential industry that relies heavily on frontline employees who cannot be transitioned into working remotely,” Rohrer wrote in the letter. “We need employees to keep hotels open, but we also need guests occupying the hotel at a high enough level for doors to stay open.”
The loss of once routine activities such as vacationing and holiday travel have hurt many hotels, a new survey of American Hotel and Lodging Association members shows. More than 70% of respondents said they won’t make it another six months without further federal assistance given current and projected travel demand, and 77% of hotels reported they will be forced to lay off more workers.
Rohrer said Maryland’s hotels have been especially crippled by the lack of large conferences and meetings, which usually attract thousands of visitors to the state every year. She said urban areas without many outdoor attractions, such as Baltimore, have struggled the most, while Ocean City and the Eastern Shore have fared better.
“We understand the need for the restrictions, but our hands are tied,” Rohrer said in an interview. “The numbers just aren’t there to support sustaining a hotel.”
The lack of travelers this Thanksgiving and approaching holiday season may further upend the industry, Rohrer added.
The Evening Sun
“I know we’re not the only ones asking, and we’re not the only who need it, but these next few months are generally a slower period in Maryland, and we’re coming out of a tough year,” she said.
Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said the office has received Rohrer’s request and will consider how the state can alleviate some of the financial pressures facing the industry.
“This is another example that shows why it is so critical for Congress to put politics aside and deliver additional stimulus relief funding for states and small businesses,” Ricci said in an email.
During the pandemic, some Baltimore-area hotel have pivoted to match the needs of the moment. The historic Lord Baltimore Hotel has been transformed by the city and the University of Maryland Medical System into the Triage Respite Isolation Center to provide services and shelter to those who need to self-isolate or quarantine and might not otherwise have a place to stay. Other unoccupied hotel rooms have been used to shelter individuals experiencing homelessness, some through the use of federal relief dollars.
Some hotels have closed, including the Holiday Inn on West Lombard Street in downtown Baltimore.
Meanwhile, Visit Baltimore, the city’s nonprofit promotional organization, which is funded by city hotel tax receipts, was forced to cut 41% from its budget for fiscal year 2021, down to $7.8 million, said Al Hutchinson, the group’s president and CEO. It has cut dozens of full- and part-time jobs in response.
Statewide, year-to-date hotel revenue through September 2020 is down 48.3%, and occupancy among available rooms is down 33.2% for the same period, Rohrer said in the letter. As many as 6.4% of the total rooms in Maryland are completely closed and not even factored into year-to-date occupancy levels, she added.