Maryland Hotel Lodging Association President and CEO Amy Rohrer said Friday that the state’s hotel industry needs financial assistance from the federal government to stave off the possibility of permanent job losses.
Below is an edited excerpt of an interview Rohrer did with MarylandReporter.com. Rohrer discussed how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the hotel business, holiday booking prospects, and general challenges facing the industry.
What is the current state of the hotel industry in Maryland and how has the pandemic affected business?
Rohrer: We certainly have a long road to recovery still ahead of us. But we are starting to see an uptick in demand for leisure travel, which is good news. That has come back more quickly than anticipated because of consumer confidence with more and more people getting vaccinated as well as pent-up demand for leisure travelers to get out of the house.
But business travel we know will be extremely slow to come back. That is not expected to pick up until next year. And full recovery is not expected until 2024. Business travel is the largest source of hotel revenue. And it is down 85% and is not expected to return soon.
Memorial Day weekend will be here in a few weeks. What are hotel bookings looking like in typical hotspots such as Ocean City?
Rohrer: Anecdotally I have heard that Ocean City is experiencing great demand. That goes back to the uptick in leisure travel. But the hotels are struggling with staffing levels all across the state. But especially in vacation destinations like Ocean City. And so some of the hotels are not able to fully open all of their rooms. They have to cap occupancy due to staffing shortages. And they may have to cap bookings at a certain level based on staffing shortages.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, many industries have received financial assistance from both local and state governments as well as the federal government. Does Maryland’s hotel industry need financial assistance?
Rohrer: Yes. The answer is absolutely yes. We are desperately in need of relief. We did receive $50 million of relief in Maryland as announced by Gov. Larry Hogan last December. And that relief money that has come into the hands of hotels has been a critical lifeline helping many of our hotels to have gotten through those tough winter months.
But we continue to need relief. There is actually federal legislation that has been introduced: The ‘Save Hotel Jobs Act.’ Up until this point in time hotels are among the industries that have been severely affected by the pandemic. And yet we are the only industry that has not received relief at the federal level. And it absolutely is needed.
How dire would the situation be if the state’s hotel industry does not get financial assistance?
Rohrer: There is the potential for jobs in the hotel industry to be permanently lost, which does not just affect the hotels but has a ripple effect on the economy. There is an Oxford economic study that shows that for every ten people that are employed at a hotel an additional 26 jobs in the community are supported. There are a wide range of businesses that rely on the presence of hotel guests, such as restaurants and retail and hotel suppliers. At the end of the day, if hotel jobs are permanently lost that impact is going to go far beyond our industry.
What is the biggest challenge facing the state’s hotel industry?
Rohrer: We have lost a number of our employees to other industries during the period in which hotels were shut down and demand was not there. And so as we are seeing the demand for leisure travel picking back up-it is a situation in which we are struggling to find enough employees to be able to meet the demand that is currently there.
This article originally appeared on MarylandReporter.com on Friday, May 7, 2021.