Occupancy rates in Baton Rouge area hotels have been increasing in recent weeks, thanks to youth sports resuming and more families going on “staycations.”
But the coronavirus pandemic is still taking a toll on the lodging industry. Revenues are down and there aren’t as many people working. On Wednesday, the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center said the downturn in business caused by the coronavirus pandemic has led to the layoff of 93 employees at the downtown hotel.
Paul Arrigo, president and chief executive officer of Visit Baton Rouge, said that over the last few weeks, hotel occupancy rates have started to get close to what they were in summer 2019. The occupancy rate for the week ending July 11 was 51%, compared with 55% for the same period in 2019, according to figures released earlier this week by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. For the week ending July 4, the occupancy rate was 46%, compared with 47% for the same period in 2019. And for the week ending June 27, the occupancy rate was 58%, compared with 61% the year before.
But hotel revenues aren’t tracking as well. The BRAC data showed hotel revenues were $2.2 million for the week ending July 11, compared with $3 million the year before. Revenues were $1.9 million for the week ending July 4, compared with $2.3 million in 2019. And they were $2.1 million for the week ending June 27, compared with $3.6 million in 2019.
“Revenue is considerably lower because the rates are lower,” Arrigo said.
Some of the hotels, especially properties along interstates 10 and 12, have seen upticks in business, he said. They’ve seen an influx in government customers, who are coming to the city to deal with the pandemic or for other business. Some are seeing families who are visiting for youth baseball or soccer tournaments. And others are picking up people lured by staycation promotions.
Arrigo expects the hotel numbers will take a dip for the current week. Last year, the city was hosting the Marucci World Series from July 23-28, a tournament featuring 114 baseball teams from across the U.S., Canada and South Korea. The annual tournament isn’t being held this year because of the pandemic. “We’re going to feel that for the remainder of July,” he said.
Downtown hotels such as the Hilton have been especially hard hit because there’s no longer any convention business. Even amenities such as pools and restaurants aren’t enough to lure guests, Arrigo said.
Officials with Prism Hospitality, the Dallas-based company that manages the downtown Hilton, notified the Louisiana Workforce Commission of the impending layoffs in a letter sent July 15. The workers will be fired Sept. 20.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on the hospitality industry. Like many other hotels, we have been forced to lay off many from our hotel staff," said Kimberlee Houston, Prism's corporate director of human resources, in a statement. "While our hotel is still open and taking great care of our guests, it is our hope, with time, that our business will grow so that we again employ many of the great people in this city."
Twenty-five critical employees will remain at the hotel, Prism said.
Scott Michelet, president of the Baton Rouge Lodging Association, said the hotel industry has been devastated by the pandemic.
“Business is about half of what it was compared to last year,” said Michelet, who serves as general manager of the Crowne Plaza Baton Rouge. The Crowne Plaza specializes in conventions, so staffing at the hotel near I-10 and College Drive has dropped from 150 employees to about 35.
The pandemic also has reduced the need for some workers. If guests are staying at the hotel for more than one night, housekeepers aren’t coming in every day to clean rooms, make beds and bring fresh towels. “We don’t want to put our employees or our guests in any danger,” he said.
The occupancy rates at the hotel dipped in the teens during the spring, Michelet said. Now, they’ve been staying around 35% during the week and going up to 50% on the weekends.
The staycation business has helped Crowne Plaza, boosted by people living in nearby cities such as Denham Springs, Prairieville and Clinton who want to get out of the house for a couple of days. After all, the pandemic has eliminated most summer vacation plans.
“We’re trying to make it as safe as possible and fun with the limited staffing we do have, to maximize the experience of the people who come to town,” he said.