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Clark County hospitality industry faces ‘very, very difficult time’

In early March, hotel owners saw cancellations start to trickle in because COVID-19 had spread to the U.S.

Rick Takach, CEO and chairman of Vancouver-based Vesta Hospitality, a company that owns and operates hotels across the country, said it could be the tip of the iceberg, and he was right.

Hospitality and lodging are among the industries hit hardest by the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to unemployment claims data from the Washington Employment Department. The sector has drawn the greatest number of unemployment insurance claims in Clark County, at roughly one-third of total claims, according to Scott Bailey, regional economist for Southwest Washington.

Takach said that about 90 percent of the 800 employees at Vesta have been placed on furlough, which falls in line with other hospitality companies: hotels, motels, restaurants, event planning, airlines and more.

“There’s basically no revenue coming in to hotels,” Takach said. “It’s a very, very difficult time.”

At the Hilton Vancouver Washington, general manager Mike McLeod said the hotel has cut back about 88 percent of its staff.

There are some positives for the industry because of the virus; Takach said the improved cleaning habits under the virus pandemic will likely stick around into the future, making workers in hotels clean surfaces more often.

“Our cleanliness standards have gotten a lot tighter,” he said. “I think that will continue.”

He also said hotels are working more closely together to get through the hard times.

On April 8, the American Hotel and Lodging Association sent a letter to the Senate and House of Representatives seeking changes in the coronavirus relief bill for businesses. The letter argued that the Small Business Act’s stimulus funds don’t fit with the costs of running a hotel; with 75 percent of the relief money earmarked for payroll, it doesn’t align with the costs of running a hotel, which are mostly bank loans and franchise fees.

But the question still remains: How will the hotels bounce back?

McLeod said he expects road-trip travelers to be among the first to start coming back to hotels. But it all depends on when stay-at-home orders are lifted, which no one can be certain about.

“There’s lots of questions on how it comes back. It’s all unknown,” McLeod said. “And what are the impacts this has on everybody from a fiscal standpoint?”

Takach said he doesn’t think occupancy will get back to normal for a few years, but when it comes back, domestic travelers will return first and international travelers will come later.

“People are dying to get out of their houses to go do stuff,” he said.



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