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Despite pandemic and staff shortage, hotels press forward
It’s no secret that the hospitality industry is hurting from the ongoing pandemic. Although widespread shutdowns are in the past, hotel executives are now challenged by the sector’s labor shortage and the slow recovery of business travel. In July, hotel revenues were down 3% compared with the same month in 2019, according to data from STR Inc., a CoStar Group division that provides market data on the U.S. hospitality industry.
Although tourism travel returned to pre-pandemic levels in Virginia Beach this summer, business and government travel continues to lag, notes Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association President Eric Terry.
Hotels continue to adapt, though, adding technology to enable hybrid meetings and updating safety protocols, with many hotels and conference centers focusing on outdoor meeting areas that are considered safer by public health officials. Many also have continued with renovations and grand openings despite the current challenges.
Here’s the latest around the state:
The 18-story downtown Richmond Marriott’s multimillion-dollar renovations were finished in December. The 410-room hotel has a skywalk to the Greater Richmond Convention Center and offers six event rooms and 24 breakout rooms. Its meeting space totals 26,700 square feet, and the largest space holds 2,000 people. The ballroom can be set up for virtual meetings. On Sept. 23, comfort food restaurant Fall Line Kitchen & Bar opened in the hotel.
In eastern Albemarle County, Keswick Hall was set to reopen in October following extensive renovations. The hotel has 80 guest rooms and suites, a golf course, a new spa and a new restaurant, Marigold, from French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The resort’s boardroom can accommodate 20 people and teleconferences, and the ballroom can be divided to hold a general session and breakout space for up to 200 people.
The $125 million Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront opened in June 2020 as part of Gold Key | PHR’s Cavalier Resort, an expansion of the Historic Cavalier Hotel & Beach Club. With 305 guest rooms, 11 meeting rooms and a total of 20,300 square feet of event space, including a ballroom overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the hotel is a prominent addition to the Oceanfront area. The hotel’s amenities include a business center, boardroom and breakout room. The resort’s outdoor spaces — seven lawns and the beach — have grown in popularity, Gold Key CEO Bruce Thompson says, as have team-building exercises.
“They do everything from different athletic-type events to scavenger hunts to meetings on the lawns to all types of activities,” Thompson says. “We give them little metal detectors and they go out and try to find things on the beach that we plant or coins or something like that.”
Gold Key’s properties — the two hotels at The Cavalier Resort and Hilton Norfolk The Main — offer three conference options, a mixture of in-person and virtual meetings. Both locations require employees to either have proof of vaccination or wear masks.
The six-story Sheraton Reston reopened Aug. 6 after completing renovations to its nine event rooms and 12 breakout rooms that total 18,600 square feet. The largest space can hold 550 people. Additions include a courtyard, a new 1,800-square-foot gym and a media room and studio.
Located 12 miles from Washington Dulles International Airport, the Landsdowne Resort and Spa in Leesburg recently renovated its ballroom and meeting spaces. The resort offers 55,000 square feet of meeting space, including an outdoor pavilion, and leisure activities like golf and spa treatments.
The 483-room Omni Homestead Resort in Bath County reopened in June 2020 after closing for three months due to the pandemic. One of the state’s oldest businesses, The Homestead has been open since 1766 and was purchased by Omni in 2013. After a couple of years’ delay and following extensive renovations, the hotel’s former Jefferson Pools — now known as the Warm Springs Pools — owned by the Homestead are expected to reopen in late 2022.
The 550-acre resort offers 23 meeting rooms with a total of 72,000 square feet, although John Hess, Homestead’s director of marketing and sales, says that its outdoor venues have become more popular in the past year, as have team-building activities. Hotel staff also worked with organizers to host virtual meetings.
“It seems that the desire to get out and travel is currently outweighing any fears that are out there of holding a meeting during this pandemic,” Hess says, “but I think that dynamic is starting to shift,” as cases rise due to the coronavirus’ delta variant.
The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, completed the $3.6 million renovation of its Pine Room Pub and 1882 Lobby Bar in September 2020. The hotel has 63,000 square feet of meeting space composed of 34 meeting areas and a 14,400-square-foot ballroom. A significant chunk of the budget — $480,000 — went into updated infrastructure and equipment to allow hybrid meetings.
In Bristol, the Nicewonder Inn is expected to open in late fall at the Nicewonder Farm & Vineyards. A 28-room lakefront boutique inn, the property is focused on fine dining (with James Beard-nominated Chef Travis Milton opening a restaurant, Hickory, on premises) and can host 300 or more guests inside or outdoors.
The Bee, a boutique hotel, opened to guests last December in the former Danville Register & Bee newspaper office. The conversion preserved features such as the original wood floors and the spiral staircase that led from the pressroom to the editor’s office. With 47 guest rooms and a rooftop veranda, The Bee offers a mix of old and new in downtown Danville.
Related: Virginia’s largest conference hotels