A new report says that 38% of Louisiana hotel jobs have been lost as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and another 32% of workers could be unemployed in several months if Congress doesn’t take steps to give the industry relief.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association released state-by-state breakdowns of the impact the pandemic has had on the industry Tuesday, a week after it announced a survey of more than 1,000 hotel owners, operators and employees where 67% said their business will only be able to last six more months at current projected revenue and occupancy rates.
According to the report, of the 37,797 hotel jobs in Louisiana, 14,401 have been lost as of September. And if there is no aid from Congress, a total of 26,458 jobs could be lost.
The report said that of the 978 hotels in Louisiana pre-pandemic, 479 face foreclosure without aid and 655 hotels could close if there is no help.
Chip Rogers, and chief executive officer of the AHLA, said while Congress did “a fantastic job early on” in passing the CARES Act, which set up the Paycheck Protection Program that gave forgivable loans to businesses, it’s time for the next step.
According to Rogers, $150 billion that had been appropriated for the PPP remains unborrowed and unspent. He wants Congress to use the money for another round of aid, directly aimed at the businesses most affected by the pandemic: hotels, restaurants and tourism. Another $500 billion is available in unused funds from the Federal Reserve's Main Street Lending program, a loan program that Rogers said didn’t help the industry at all.
“We’re heading into lean times for the industry,” he said. “The businesses centered around tourism need help just to get to the other side. The industry can make it if they can just get to next spring and summer. If they can’t, there will be a lot of unnecessary pain.”
Mark Romig, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for New Orleans and Company, said any federal assistance for the hotel and tourism industry would be appreciated. “This can help fuel the messaging that we need to get out around the nation,” he said.
Two-thirds of New Orleans hotels are operating at limited capacity. Occupancy rates haven’t been above 50% since March, dipping down in the single digits for some summer weekdays. Normally, hotel occupancy rates in New Orleans are in the 60% to 80% range during the summer and for some big events, such as Essence Festival, the city is sold out.
Paul Arrigo, president and chief executive officer of Visit Baton Rouge, said he thought the AHLA numbers were “a little high.” As of last week, Arrigo said less than 10% of the hotel inventory in metro Baton Rouge has closed as a result of the pandemic. That includes properties such as the Belle of Baton Rouge’s hotel, which has temporarily shut down for renovations and is set to reopen in 2021.
The Baton Rouge hotel market has been aided by people displaced by Hurricane Laura and workers who have come in to help with cleanup. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office has said there are still “several hundred hotel rooms” being occupied by people affected by the hurricane, but Arrigo said Visit Baton Rouge has not been able to verify the statistics.
Ben Berthelot, president and chief executive officer of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, said he thinks the AHLA numbers fit in with what he is seeing in his market. Acadiana has been hit by a “double whammy” of the pandemic and crashing oil prices, which has greatly reduced demand for hotel rooms. Not only was occupancy below 50% until Laura hit, but the revenues were off because properties had to charge lower room rates in order to lure visitors, he said.
Lafayette area hotel rooms were sold out for the three weeks after Laura, but Berthelot said there are starting to be vacancies.
“It was a shot in the arm, but still not enough to make up for the losses those hotels had,” he said.
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