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Airdrie hotel industry still struggling amid pandemic

Airdrie’s hotels are still recovering from the financial hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Airdrie’s hotels are still recovering from the financial hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Shauna Quinn, tourism development officer for the City of Airdrie, four of Airdrie’s nine hotels have still not reopened since the beginning of the Alberta government's economic relaunch, while others continue to contend with low occupancy rates.

“Normally in Airdrie, we have 703 rooms available every night, which is quite a large inventory,” she said. “With COVID closing down four hotels – some of them temporarily – that was over 284 room nights that we lost.

“When we look at the occupancy rates for where we sat in April and May, we were only at about 22 per cent occupancy, so that’s quite significant.”

According to Quinn, Airdrie's hotel revenue in May was down more than $671,000 compared to May 2019.

One local hotel – the Hampton Inn and Suites by Hilton – even went into receivership.

“Receivership means they are unable to pay their current expenses and are looking for a buyer and for the bank to take hold to help manage the way forward," she said.

There are many ways to support local hotels, according to Quinn, such as rescheduling a conference or wedding, rather than cancelling it outright. Another way is to give a hotel a rave review on social media.

She said another option is to stay at a hotel for a night or two, and treat it as a “staycation.”

“Being able to take the family for a night out, even if it’s down the street from where you live, can feel like a nice little getaway,” she said.

“If you have family coming into town, instead of crowding the house, why not look at getting a great hotel room? I know a few families – including myself – have bought a hotel night because some of the water slides and pools are open, and they’re practicing strong COVID health measures.”

Another way to help hotels is to call personally when booking a room, she added.

“Just like we hear with restaurants, when you use a third party, they take up to 18 per cent of that room rate as their commission,” she said. “So, as much as it can be enticing to work off of Expedia or Travelocity, when you call the hotel and ask them to match the third party rate, at least you know that money is staying here in Airdrie and not off to Sweden or wherever the corporate third party is from.”

Jason Noh, the owner of Motel 6 Airdrie, said his business was also hit hard by the pandemic.

“In the early days of the pandemic, it was a wave of mass cancellations,” he said. “We had two sports teams that were going to stay with us on the weekend of March 15, and that was obviously cancelled. From then, there were just more and more cancellations.”

While he did not have to lay any employees off permanently, Noh said some of the motel’s cleaning staff temporarily went onto the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit program. However, he said a few have come back to work, as bookings increase.

“I would say every month is a bit better than the last – May was better than April and June was better than May,” he said. “However, when comparing it year over year, we’re still far from recovery.”

Travel behaviour has become more erratic and difficult to predict, he added, making it harder to plan long-term.

"Last year, it was quite easy to know what our occupancy was going to be two weeks, three weeks, four weeks out,” he said. “But with COVID, it’s just been these wild swings.

“We certainly have to take a more short-term view on how we plan our business and go about things.”

According to Quinn, hotels typically average fewer bookings in the late fall and winter compared to the summer months. With that in mind, she is concerned the struggles will continue into 2021.

"With a weak start [to the year] and possibly lower summer [numbers], by December it could be the end for a few more properties," she said. "If we can support them in August as much as we can, they might be able to ride it out."

Scott Strasser,
Follow me on Twitter @scottstrasser19

Scott Strasser

About the Author: Scott Strasser

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