As Americans plan to travel less for the holidays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hotels in Hall County and Georgia are preparing for fewer guests and turning to business travel as a possible revenue source.
About 70% of people in the country were less likely to travel for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, according to a survey by the American Hotel and Lodging Association. That is a continuation of year-long trends as people put their travel plans on hold.
“It’s a year of shattered dreams and lost careers,” Jim Sprouse, executive director of the Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association, said of the industry this year.
Jessica Miller, general manager of the Hampton Inn and Suites in Flowery Branch, said bookings for this year’s Thanksgiving week were about a third of what the hotel has seen in previous years.
“Thanksgiving is usually pretty decent for us, considering the location of the Mall of Georgia and Black Friday shopping,” Miller said. “It usually pans out pretty well.”
The hotel industry has struggled since the beginning of the pandemic, Miller said.
“It’s one of the worst industries, apart from a restaurant, that you could possibly be in right now. I know a lot of friends that work in hotels across the country and in Canada. They have lost their jobs,” she said. “Their businesses have closed. They’re running on only essential staff. Locally, in Flowery Branch, I’d say that we have been very blessed to have been able to sustain our business.”
Miller said some small corporate groups and construction groups have helped the business.
Akeria McHenry, operations manager at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Gainesville, said some business travel has also helped that hotel.
“Some of the businesses, the manufacturers and chicken plants, they’re bringing more jobs due to COVID, and like with Amazon in the area,” McHenry said. “That’s what is keeping us afloat. We have the larger groups coming in and staying for a significant amount of days.”
But the holiday season actually tends to be slower for the hotel, even without the pandemic, McHenry said.
“When the season starts, around November and December, it’s pretty much our off-season. So, it’s pretty typical for us to be kind of slow around the holiday time,” she said. “But due to COVID, it’s probably a little slower. With us having this big runoff in Georgia, we’ve had a couple groups that were working with the election, but other than that, it’s really our off-season.”
Sprouse said it is common for hotels to slow down during the holidays as businesses host fewer conferences and events.
“Their clients don’t want to travel. They want to be home with their families,” Sprouse said. “Around Thanksgiving and Christmas, traditionally, there are no group events anyway. That’s when we do rely on some leisure business.”
But large-scale business travel and conferences, often a main revenue source for hotels, have been put on hold this year, Sprouse said. That is a major loss for many hotels.
“Those events are gone. They were canceled,” Sprouse said. “… We’re looking well into next year before we see the return of any of that kind of business.”
Hotels usually need to be at around 50% occupancy to “pay the bills,” Sprouse said. Some hotels that rely less on large events have fared a little better, he said.
“Everybody is just hanging on, trying to get whatever business that they can get. It’s very much dependent on the type of hotel,” Sprouse said. “If you’re a large convention hotel, their expectations for holiday business are not very high. If you’re a smaller property with a location that’s in a resort area, by the lakes, by the mountains, they’re hoping for a little better business.”