How hospitality and health care can thrive throughout the pandemic
by JEREMY ZUKER
There is no doubt that the pandemic will forever alter how we live and work, but the hospitality industry may be more changed than anyone could have predicted. With 80 percent of hotel rooms sitting empty, 2020 is projected to be the worst year on record for hotel occupancy. Even with a vaccine on the horizon, the loss of income may have already been too serious for many hotels to recover, with 67 percent of hotels expecting that they’ll only be able to last six more months at current projected revenue and occupancy levels without any further relief. If there ever was a time to make a major change to the industry, it is now. With little relief on the horizon, hotels need to find alternate streams of revenue to help them survive the pandemic.
On the other end of the spectrum is the health care industry. With flu season upon us and an ongoing and worsening pandemic, the health care industry is overwhelmed with demand. Hospitals are struggling to keep up with patients, clinics are trying to distribute flu vaccines, and pharmaceutical firms are racing to find a cure for the COVID-19 virus. Health care is facing a major crisis, trying to support and protect both patients and employees. Existing and unused assets need to be leveraged to support the health care industry.
As the second wave of the virus extends across the U.S., public transportation can become dangerous, with crowded spaces and poor air quality spreading the virus. In transit agencies across the country, ridership and fare revenue have plummeted by as much as 80 to 90 percent due to these concerns. This has created another problem: low ridership is causing transit authorities to reduce or cancel service on routes, making public transit unreliable. Health care and frontline workers are relying on personal cars in order to keep themselves safe. However, not only is hospital parking expensive, but hospital parking lots have limited space. This is a problem – now more than ever – due to the influx of patients and the influx of hospital staff that have opted to drive.
- A Place to Stay
As the number of cases in the U.S. rises dramatically, there will be more health care workers looking for spaces to self-isolate away from their families. We saw this issue frequently throughout the first wave – frontline workers who were potentially exposed to the virus needed spaces to quarantine away from others. With the U.S. reporting more than 100,000 new cases a day, we will likely see the need for self-isolation spaces grow.
Supporting These Industries
To address the issues facing health care workers and to support the hospitality industry, existing assets such as rooms and parking can be leveraged to increase hotel revenues. It’s a simple issue of supply and demand. With hotel vacancy rates at an all-time low, hotel parking is sitting empty. On the other hand, hospital parking is busier than ever with more demand from patients and employees. If they are located near a hospital, hotels can leverage their empty parking spaces by renting them out to health care workers and hospitals. By renting them out on monthly contracts, hospitals can secure parking throughout the pandemic and hotels can secure long-term revenue. With hospital parking at a premium, discounts also can be applied to support health care workers and offer them spaces at lower rates. While public transit remains problematic, having reasonably priced parking spaces can help hospital workers commute safely to work.
Empty rooms also can be used for self-isolation if health care workers need space away from their families. Near the beginning of the pandemic, AHLA saw that there was a demand for spaces to quarantine and set up the Hospitality for Hope Initiative. This initiative aimed to match empty hotels with the health care community, as they struggled to find housing and support. More than 17,000 hotels signed up to support the cause. Cities across the globe, especially those that are suffering the most, have noticed how important hotels can be to supporting the health care industry, and they are willing to pay for the support. In Chicago, the city used 200 underutilized hotel rooms to provide quarantine spaces for infected patients, paying each hotel that participated around $1 million per month. As we enter the second wave of the virus, we will see increased demand for this type of support, which also would help the hospitality industry.
Although revenue is important for the hotel industry, it’s equally as important to support communities and frontline workers. As we experience a second wave of the virus across the U.S., communities will have to band together to ensure that hospitals have adequate supplies and support once again. Yet, at the same time, if we want businesses to survive, we have to find ways to support local entrepreneurs, restaurants, hotels, and other industries that are experiencing steep revenue declines. Otherwise, when we emerge from the pandemic, our communities may face even more losses.