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Business & Economy

Hotel Business Down While Pandemic Challenges Remain

hotel room door
David Lee

Occupancy at hotels in the Columbus Metropolitan area have remained lower since the pandemic started in 2020, and more challenges could slow a recovery.

“We are not only below where we want to be this year, but we’re below pre-pandemic numbers for 2019,” said President and CEO of the Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association, Joe Savarise. “All credible industry analysis points to the fact that it will be into 2023 before we start to see those numbers come back to pre-pandemic level.”

Savarise explained that occupancy rates through September 2021 were at 51.5%. That is nearly a 16.5% drop from the same period in 2019, when occupancy stood at 67.9%.

“Our recovery process will be prolonged due to the nature of our business which includes advance bookings,” said Savarise. “People that plan events and conferences and conventions well in advance.”

Savarise said while Columbus does have an advantage for its location near other large metropolitan cities, it has issued a mask mandate that Cleveland and Cincinnati have not imposed.

"We have a mask mandate in the city of Columbus which puts us at a disadvantage,” said Savarise. “We have seen events cancel or postpone for that reason. That’s an impact on the bottom line.”

More hotel rooms are opening as construction continues in the downtown and Short North areas.

“There were at least 12 hotels that opened up during the pandemic year of 2020,” said Savarise. “There were an additional about 9 hotels that have opened in the greater Columbus market in 2021, and that all puts additional strain on our overall inventory at a time when there’s decreased business.”

Finding enough workers is also a problem in particular for those who run the bed and breakfast venues in smaller communities.

“They cannot sell all the hotel rooms that they have in their properties because they can’t turn them over,” said Savarise. “They can’t clean them. They can’t service them given the labor crisis that we face. So that absolutely is going to be a problem.”

Some venues are thinking more creatively about how to attract customers. Savarise said they have offered more inclusive packages for leisure travelers and opened up outdoor spaces on rooftops.

Savarise said he expects hotel business will continue to be slow in 2022 as businesses limit travel, but he said Ohio’s attractions like Hocking Hills, Lake Erie, Amish Country, and others will remain popular destinations.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.