Hotels, among the first businesses hit by COVID-19, are still less than half full

The pandemic economy has been particularly brutal for hotel chains

Earlier this week, Wyndham Hotels reported it lost $174 million in the second quarter — it made $26 million in profit the same time last year. Next week we’ll find out how Hyatt, Loews and Hilton have fared. Marriott reports the following week. The major hotel chains have laid off staff as bookings have tanked.

The hotel business was among the first to feel the pain, as travelers canceled trips and people stopped going out to eat, drink and get spa treatments — pretty much anything you can do at a nice hotel.

“We hit bottom in April, of about 20% occupancy levels, which is something that the industry’s never even come close to seeing before,” said Chip Rogers, president of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

Rogers said that as states reopened their economies in May and June, bookings started to rise again. But then, COVID-19 cases surged and occupancy stalled.

“It has leveled off in the mid- to upper-40% [range] since that point, and we don’t seem to be moving any further,” Rogers said.

In the peak summer season, hotels are usually at least 80% full. Rogers said revenues are down, but hotels still need to pay their commercial real estate loans on time.

“We’re seeing a significant amount of delinquencies,” he said. “As we move into the fall, when people stop taking vacations, if there’s no significant increase in business activity, you’re going to see a lot of those hotels fall into foreclosure.”

Since the pandemic started, about 1 in 3 hotel workers have been laid off and not called back, said Nick Bunker at the Indeed Hiring Lab. And new job openings are few and far between.

“Job postings for hospitality and tourism are about 50% below last year,” Bunker said. “It’s still absolutely depressed.”

The industry is pressing for more financial help from Congress. The other hope for the travel industry is to get the pandemic under control.

Victoria Sakal at Morning Consult said that right now, with the recent spike in cases, “people of course are getting nervous about leaving their homes. And this can affect everything from going to a shopping mall, as well as bigger traditional discretionary activities like going on vacation.”

Sakal said consumers are less comfortable going out and spending now than they were back in June.

It’s still the question on everyone’s minds: What’s going on with extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

The $600-a-week payments have ended, officially, as of July 31. For now, there is no additional federal pandemic unemployment assistance. House Democrats want to renew the $600 payments. Senate Republicans have proposed giving the unemployed 70% of their most recent salary by this October, when state unemployment offices have had time to reconfigure their computer systems to do those calculations. Until then, jobless workers would just get another $200. But, nothing has been signed into law yet.

What’s the latest on evictions?

For millions of Americans, things are looking grim. Unemployment is high, and pandemic eviction moratoriums have expired in states across the country. And as many people already know, eviction is something that can haunt a person’s life for years. For instance, getting evicted can make it hard to rent again. And that can lead to spiraling poverty.

Which retailers are requiring that people wear masks when shopping? And how are they enforcing those rules?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask. When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control, so many of these retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates. But, just having them will actually get more people to wear masks.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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