By Samuel Strait, Reporter at Large – January 5, 2021
The following is part two of a series on how the past year has affected
local businesses. This particular article explores the trials and
tribulations of one hotel owner in the day of the Covid Pandemic. One
of the key components of the local economy is tourism. So it should be
of no surprise that a most important piece of that economy is the many
hotels and motels that provide lodging for visitors, and entice them to
extend their stay in order to experience the hospitality and scenic
sites in the local area. In doing so, it encourages tourists to spend
money in the local economy and support many other local businesses.
When occupancy suffers in the area’s hotels and motels, the economy
across the area suffers.
In the past year, a local hotel owner admits that the pandemic and
government mandates have reeked havoc with the occupancy rate of the
hotel. Occupancy can be off by as much as 55% to 65% on any given day.
In most summer months when normally the hotel is at capacity from June
to August, this summer many vacancies were experienced every night. The owner felt that “stay at home orders” were largely responsible for the
reluctance of people to travel. The hit and miss application of the
mandate and hyped fear of Covid left potential travelers staying at
home. Much of the time only “essential travelers” were allowed to
travel and everyone else was encouraged remain isolated as much as possible.
New sanitation requirements, contact tracing, and precautions over
employees added additional burdens to overhead. The unintended
consequences of the new policies for handling hotel employees who were
laid off made it difficult to ask them to return to work when situations
improved and retain staff once on unemployment. At one point a member of the staff tested positive for Covid and resulted in the hotel’s
closure for several weeks. In the mean time, power, water, TV
subscriptions, and a myriad of other expenses continued unabated. When a business in a small rural area largely dependent on surplus income generated at the peak season as well as a boost at holiday times, it
becomes difficult to maintain satisfactory service during the off peak
season for a bulk of the year. Hotels are not immune from a significant
down turn in the economy for what ever reason, and this past year has
been particularly hard. If travel in the coming year, does not make a
strong come back, some hotels and motels will not survive.
This is yet another example where State and local leadership could have
made a real difference locally when most holidays and the summer high
season were essentially cancelled. Financial aid from the National
government and the State has been too little and too late. At this
point continued messaging by the media, government leadership and public health officials make it difficult for hotel owners to be optimistic
going forward. Another whole year of lock downs and stay at home orders, coupled with uncertainty over the currently administered vaccines has not garnered any trust that things will return to normal any time soon.
If 2021 is a carbon coy of 2020, things could get ugly for hotels, a key
linchpin for the economy in Del Norte County.