Sorry, we’re CLOSED
Virginia hotels, attractions shut down during pandemic
“April is the cruelest month,” T.S. Eliot wrote, but for the hospitality and tourism industries, the cruelty began in March.
With conferences and conventions canceling reservations amid the pandemic, hotels and convention centers across the commonwealth have temporarily shut down operations, furloughing and laying off workers.
By late March, Virginia lost more than 23,000 hotel jobs due to the coronavirus crisis, and the American Hotel and Lodging Association estimated that number would rise to more than 78,000. Nationally, the hotel industry lost more than 1 million jobs by late March.
McLean-based Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., which has temporarily closed about 1,000 of its more than 6,100 hotels and furloughed employees, saw its revenue per available room decrease by almost 60% in March.
Some mainstays like The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, delayed new reservations until at least July 1, in light of government restrictions on group meetings and uncertainty surrounding how long the pandemic might impact business travel and gatherings. (By mid-April, the United States had the most confirmed corona-virus cases and deaths in the world.)
Perhaps the greatest signifier of the rapid evaporation of the travel and meetings businesses in Virginia is the fact that Gov. Ralph Northam designated the Dulles Expo Center, the Greater Richmond Convention Center and the Hampton Roads Convention Center to be converted into field hospitals if needed for COVID-19 patient overflow.
Travel spending nationwide dropped from $19.8 billion in the first week of March to $3.3 billion in the first week of April, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Here in Virginia, weekly travel spending declined from $521 million to $101 million during the same period.
Virginia tourism attractions also have closed down operations.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon is closed indefinitely until health experts deem it is safe to reopen to visitors. Busch Gardens Williamsburg also closed down indefinitely and its parent company, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, has furloughed more than 90% of its workforce. Colonial Williamsburg, which had already been financially challenged by diminishing ticket revenues and visitation numbers in recent decades, closed its Historic Area, museums, hotels and restaurants through the end of May. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation furloughed most of its hospitality staff and instituted pay cuts for many employees.
Nevertheless, tourism officials are eager to remind visitors that the pandemic will not last forever. Virginia Tourism Corp. launched a new campaign, “We’ll Be Waiting For You,” emphasizing Virginia’s scenic beauty.
In a letter announcing the campaign, Virginia Tourism Corp. President and CEO Rita McClenny wrote, “We will remind our travelers that Virginia is — and always will be — a place for love and connection. And we will reassure them that Virginia’s incredible travel experiences will still be here whenever they are ready to travel again.”
Read more stories about the challenges experienced by Virginia’s tourism and lodging industries during the pandemic:
- Unconventional times — Hotels closed, workers furloughed as convention biz dries up
- Conference hotels chart
- Delay of game — Sports tourism takes a timeout amid coronavirus