Virginia is for coronavirus
Tourism and hospitality industries take hard hits
Within the first week of coronavirus spreading into Virginia, Lansdowne Resort and Spa in Leesburg saw about 50% of its conferences and events for March and April immediately postponed or canceled.
“For now, it’s a short-term event,” says Rich Keurajian, Lansdowne director of sales and marketing.
But that may have been wishful thinking, as the American Hotel and Lodging Association said that it anticipated 45% of the nation’s hotel jobs would be lost by the beginning of April. Predictions of a 30% drop in hotel patronage this year would translate into 4 million lost jobs, the association said.
The story was much the same in Virginia, where event reservations and hotel occupancy rates were already nosediving before the state and federal government issued directives to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people.
“Everyone has been so caught off-guard that they’re just canceling,” says Ted Rubis, president of Henrico County-based Ampa Events, an events management company that puts on big corporate conferences and events. “The [events] industry is just being shut down. The business that we all had, my colleagues, myself … it’s all disappeared. There are no bookings.”
In Richmond, events that draw thousands of visitors to the state capital have been canceled, including the Jefferson Cup soccer tournament, which was expected to attract 12,000 attendees, says Richmond Region Tourism President and CEO Jack Berry.
As of mid-March, the organization planned to launch a May media “blitz” to promote tourism to the Richmond region. “It’s to spur the traffic in later summer and fall,” Berry says. “We’re strategizing for when we come out of this.”
The Norfolk region also saw an early cluster of conference cancelations and postponements amid coronavirus fears, and also has seen inquiries about scheduling upcoming events and conferences in the near future drying up.
“Leads that would be coming in for the next few weeks aren’t coming in that would have an impact,” Visit-Norfolk President and CEO Kurt J. Krause says. “All we’re going to do now is lose business.”
Hotels and conference centers across Virginia, from The Omni Homestead Resort to the Hampton Roads Convention Center and The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center, all saw cancelations and postponements within the first week of the virus’ outbreak in Virginia.
“Planners are shifting dates because everything is so unpredictable right now,” says John Hess, director of sales and marketing for The Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs. “They just need to buy some time.” Associations that had planned to visit The Homestead this spring are generally changing to a fall timeframe, he says.
Hospitality and tourism-related businesses also began quickly receiving financial hits in the form of cancelations and lost bookings during the early days of the crisis, says Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association President Eric Terry.
“While event cancelations will… potentially [impact] our economy in the short term, the suspension of these large gatherings is absolutely the right thing to do in order to protect our citizens in Virginia,” says Virginia Tourism Corp. Director of Communications Caroline Logan.
Companies that are teleworking are also suspending conferences — as well as learning how to move these events online.
Tech companies such as Arlington-based OpenWater Software Inc. are helping companies migrate conferences online.
Although virtual conferences can’t replace the professional networking opportunities associated with in-person events, online streaming and conferencing provides options for businesses that have already invested tens of thousands of dollars in planning a conference or special event.
“Imagine this: You pay your last $10,000 to $15,000 to do a product launch. And now the product launch is canceled,” OpenWater CEO Kunal Johar says. “You don’t have another chance.”
More than 2,000 people have downloaded a guide OpenWater has posted about moving conferences online, Johar says.
Although alternatives to in-person conferences may pop up, Krause points out that Virginia and the nation may still be months away from seeing the pandemic completely subside. Faced with the possibility of empty conference and meeting venues continuing into the summer, it’s impossible yet to predict how bad the economic impact could get.
“Golly, we’re in a pickle,” he says.
Follow the links below to read the rest of the stories in this Virginia Business special report about the impact of the coronavirus crisis: