By JOHN HOWELL Even before Gov. Raimondo issued a stay-at-home order, Rhode Island hotels and the tourism industry were feeling the impact of the pandemic as weddings, conferences and events were postponed or put on a wait and see basis. Then, with the
Even before Gov. Raimondo issued a stay-at-home order, Rhode Island hotels and the tourism industry were feeling the impact of the pandemic as weddings, conferences and events were postponed or put on a wait and see basis. Then, with the order on March 15, things came to a standstill.
“We were the first to get hit,” said Kristen Adamo, president and CEO of the Providence Warwick Visitors Convention Bureau. Unfortunately, she sees the tourism industry as the last to recover from the wallop COVID-19 has delivered the economy.
But while the statistics are gloomy, and despite industry leaders saying what is happening today is nine times worse than 9/11, Adamo offers some glimmers for Rhode Island and Warwick, which has 17 hotels.
She’s not alone.
Lynne Oscarson, general manager of the Crowne Plaza, pointed to strong bookings for 2021. “It looks like we’re going to have so many weddings,” she said. She said the hotel took a dive immediately following the shutdown, but since then the Crowne has recovered some ground. The hotel picked up crew bookings from a couple of airlines; the National Guard is housing personnel at the Crowne at least to June 1; and in late May, UPS booked 70 rooms to house crews called in to relieve the “bottleneck” of pickups in the region, she said.
During the ban on restaurants, the Crowne did not offer dining or hot meal room service. Sandwiches and “grab and go” food was available and there are microwave ovens.
The Carpionato Group that also owns and operates the Holiday Inn Express with 147 rooms on Jefferson Boulevard closed that facility.
Ryan Giviens, manager of the 82-suite extended stay Homewood Suites by Hilton, called the last two months “a roller coaster” with pay cuts and layoffs. Nonetheless, he sees the hotel in a better place than some establishments as the suites have kitchens, which is a plus with restaurants closed. He believes the hotel is well positioned for the time when people dragged down by cabin fever get out and start traveling again.
“You can’t change that. There’s an inherent desire to travel,” Giviens said. Declining room rates will also work in favor of restarting the business, he said.
Giviens credits the PWVCB and the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce with assisting businesses to reopen.
According to PWVCB projections, the hotels represented by the group will lose $48.6 million in direct spending, $33.2 million in canceled business and $15.4 million in postponed business between March 11 and November 1. As a basis of comparison the PWVCB saw $73.3 million in direct spending, booked 111,844 hotel nights and had 194,528 people attend events during the 2019 fiscal year.
Adamo put the business impact on Warwick at $6.4 million.
While Adamo said Warwick hotels fared better that those in Providence, occupancy rates were dramatically down for April. Excluding the Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn Express and the Wyndham, occupancy for the month was 27.4 percent as compared to 62.5 percent for April 2019. The average daily rate for this April was $77.87 compared to $98.51 last April.
Looking ahead, Adamo sees safety and value as critical factors to restoring business. She said travelers are looking for vigorous sanitation practices. She expects “staycations” with local residents looking to break away from home and small group experiences to be some of the first business to return.
Packages that include room, dining and small group experiences such as walking tours, boat outings and even cooking classes she sees as opportunities. She is especially hopeful of a return of youth sporting events that have been one of the mainstays for Warwick hotels.
Adamo said Tuesday that youth sports organizers remain interested in conducting events in August and September resulting in Warwick hotel bookings. Of course, she noted that hinges on the pandemic and whether regulations on gatherings have been relaxed.
She called Warwick a “hub and spoke” with travelers staying here to visit nearby destinations, a factor that she said works to the advantage of Warwick hotels.