We’re open! Local hotels trying to survive during the pandemic

Business

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The demand for hotels has been fluctuating since the pandemic began in March of last year. Robert Reed, Vice President of SMI Hotel Group, said his hotels across the Richmond metro area are slow right now.

“No one could have imagined that something could have such a detrimental effect on our industry so quickly,” he said.

Reed questioned how an industry can go from having a record-breaking year to what happened in 2020. The year prior, the hotel industry had record occupancies and great revenues.

“You would have never imagined that you would just shut and lock the doors of your hotel,” Reed shared.

And companies still aren’t traveling.

Reed said companies don’t want to take the liability of putting an employee on a plane and sending them somewhere they may get exposed to the virus. Which causes hotels that are reliant on corporate and group travel to suffer.

Suffering is something the SMI Hotel Group can relate to during the pandemic. Three out of their four Richmond-based hotels were closed. It was a difficult time for staff, but Reed asserted it had to be done.

“In the beginning, there was a safety concern,” he shared. “Also, just the demand for the business fell so precipitously, and it didn’t make financial sense to keep the hotels open.”

SMI Hotel Group owns six hotels across the country, four in the Richmond area and two in Texas.

The company owns The Four Points by Sheraton, both the Richmond and Richmond Airport locations. As well as the Delta Hotels by Marriot and The Commonwealth in downtown Richmond.

One of the hotel SMI Hotel Group owns in Richmond. (Photo: D’Andre Henderson)

Reed said their properties are performing better in the south compared to RVA.

“In Texas, it’s more locality driven whereas, in Virginia, we have statewide restrictions,” he said explaining coronavirus-related restrictions. “There are state restrictions in Texas too, but it is really driven by the locality there. That plays a part of it.”

With restrictions a little looser and more lenient across the southern states, Reed said the hotel industry there is able to endure the challenges created by COVID-19.

But luck played a huge role in helping their hotel in east Texas stay afloat.

“Companies are using that city to stage temporary medical personnel who are staffing these hospitals. They’re sending them out to their assignments,” he said to 8News. “We just happen to be lucky that we have a hotel in that area that’s running again, record occupancies in December and so far in January.”

Reed’s job looks different today than it did a year ago. His back-to-back calls haven’t changed much, except maybe from on the phone to Zoom, but he personally had to pivot during the pandemic. He covers front desk shifts now from time to time since they had to let a large portion of their employees go.

Prior to the pandemic, SMI Hotel Group had about 460 full-time employees or equivalent. Today, they’re just at about half of that.

“During the low, we had closed hotels, we were down to 20 percent of that, and we’re now back up to 50 percent but even with that — many of those individuals before were getting 40 hours a week regularly, now they’re getting 15 to 20 hours a week,” Reed said shaking his head.

He said one of the most difficult parts of the pandemic was having to furlough employees, especially their long-serving employees.

Reed shared there will always be a need for lodging because people naturally want to go on a “getaway.” So, he’s confident the industry will bounce back to normal, whatever that the “new normal” will be.

SMI Group applied for the second round of the PPP program, in order to help sustain and bring back employees.

“About half of our staff is still not with us, that’s the toughest part,” he said. “So, welcoming those people back is what we most look forward to,”

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