Monday, 2 Oct 2023

Governor rules hotels essential businesses in Colorado but many have already shut down as coronavirus destroys demand

It’s not often that a honeymooning couple books their wedding suite on the same day they intend to stay in it, but that’s what happened last week at the Source Hotel on Denver’s Brighton Boulevard.

Flights for their planned honeymoon vacation canceled, so the couple checked in and were upgraded to the best room in the building. With the 100-room hotel operating with two to five rooms occupied nightly in the past two weeks as the COVID-19 pandemic upends life across Colorado and around the globe, there was little competition.

“We gave them champagne and flowers like we always do for honeymooners,” David Stutz, the hotel’s general manager said.

The gifts provided a touch of normalcy in a time where nothing is normal. Stutz and about 17 other employees are all that remain from a staff of 100 a few weeks ago. In-house restaurant The Woods is now offering curbside pickup 14 hours a day. The staff is selling six-packs of beer from the on-site New Belgium Brewing Co. brewery for $10.

As Mayor Michael Hancock did, Gov. Jared Polis exempted hotels from his statewide stay-at-home order that took effect Thursday morning, labeling them “critical infrastructure.”

“We have advocated that the state not close hotels statewide because there are still people who need places to stay,” Amie Mayhew, president and the CEO of Colorado Hotel & Lodging Association said Thursday, mentioning stranded travelers, those who travel for essential work and people facing homelessness. “Even in this time hotels and motels play an important role in housing those folks that are here and have nowhere else to go.”

Some notable pieces of the state’s hospitality industry have opted to close amid plummeting traveler demand and concerns for the safety of workers and travelers related to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Colorado Springs’ Broadmoor Hotel closed all of its 784 rooms, suites and cottages on March 21. Management hopes to reopen for Memorial Day weekend. Ski industry giant Vail Resorts shut down all of resorts and lodging properties in Colorado and across North America last week. Stonebridge Cos., one of the largest hotel operators in the state, with more than 25 properties, is making decisions on which of its hotels it may close on a case-by-case basis, company officials said in a statement.

The job losses are mounting. As of early last week, Mayhew’s group counted 22,540 direct hotel-related jobs lost in Colorado and 71,841 jobs lost that were supported by the hotel industry, including at restaurants and other businesses fed by tourism. With more than 1,250 hotels in the state employing more than 176,000 people, those numbers almost certainly have risen, Mayhew said.

The Economic Policy Institue is projecting Colorado will lose 261,000 jobs in the hospitality and leisure industries through this summer, one of a number of disastrous projections for the state’s tourism-heavy economy.

Denver-based Sage Hospitality Group last week announced it was suspending operations at a portion of the 53 properties it operates across the country. The closures include downtown Denver hotels the Crawford, the Maven, the Oxford and the Curtis.

Sage has furloughed a vast majority of its workforce, CEO Walter Isenberg wrote in an email Monday. The company’s first priority is helping those employees access support resources.

Sage also is looking at ways to put empty rooms to good use, according to the CEO.

“We have been working with many government agencies to find solutions that would allow for the safe use of our businesses to support first responders and others in our community that are most vulnerable,” Isenberg wrote. “These conversations are ongoing, and we do not have additional detail at this time.”

Mayhew said several hotel operators are in talks to use their properties as shelters for needy people or even overflow health care facilities amid the pandemic. No contracts have been signed yet, but she expects the first of those arrangements to be announced next week.

One of Denver’s hospitality crown jewels, the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa at the corner of 17th Street and Broadway, has furloughed most of its staff, but general manager Nick Moschetti and 12 employees are still keeping it 241 rooms ready and waiting for guests. The historic property has room rates in the low $100s right now, said Moschetti, lower than the normal rates at its now-closed sister property, the Holiday Inn Express across the street. With the state under stay-at-home orders for at least the next few weeks, few Coloradans are eligible to take advantage.

“The Brown Palace has never closed in 128 years,” Moschetti said. “It’s been through the Great Depression and multiple economic downturns and recessions, and that’s definitely a motivator for us. We know our place in Denver’s history, and we’re intent and fighting to keep this hotel operating.”

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