Make or break? Will hospitality recover from coronavirus or go on life support

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This Memorial Day Weekend is likely to be the most important holiday for the New Orleans hospitality industry.

This weekend will likely set the stage for the recovery of the industry from the COVID-19 pandemic or whether the industry, through its lodging associations, will push hard for a federal government recovery package that will rival the one for airlines.

We went to Dr. Bridget Bordelon, Lester Kabacoff Chairperson and a professor at UNO’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration. 

She says if the American public travels this weekend, it’s likely to be done by car.  And she says big hotel stays may not be in the picture:

“We’re going to see more road trips, we’re going to see people going back to national parks, beach vacations, places with open-air where they can spread out,” she says.  “I think that’s going to be our first step.”

Bordelon says the situation facing the New Orleans market is being held back by one of the city’s top tourism draws continuing to be shuttered:  Harrah’s Casino.

“The casino can act as a really strong pull factor for the hotels,” she states.  “And we have to remember destinations are always in fierce competition for visitors.”

She says tourists who should be coming here are going to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast casinos.  She says every effort should be made, with safety in mind, to put New Orleans’ best foot forward to attract visitors. 

The other challenge is capacity caps, 25-percent at current Phase One level.  How do you run a hotel on 25-percent occupancy?

“Moving that occupancy rate down to 25% is a challenge.  [Hoteliers are] thinking about the usage of resources, thinking about the cost of even running the air conditioning, costs of security, staffing, that can become difficult”   

As the industry moves forward into the 2020 Summer Tourism Season, whether good or bad, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, along with several other hospitality associations, are asking Congress for a bailout to save the industry. 

The AHLA is asking for paycheck protection for workers, mortgage relief, tax credits for hotels and travelers to incentivize travel and other means of protecting the industry in these unprecedented times. 

“That have some support for hotels, just like airlines,” Bordelon explains. “Or just like in terms of helping with mortgages, or forbearance, I think this is the time that hotels would really be able to benefit.”

This weekend is being looked upon as a yardstick by which the hospitality industry can try to gage a recovery. 

Right now the numbers are devastating with more than 8 in 10 hotel employees having been laid off or furloughed outright, since the start of the pandemic.