U.S. hotel industry responds to coronavirus outbreak

Feds consider economic stimulus while major hospitality conferences stay on schedule

As of March 10, the novel coronavirus had infected nearly 114,000 people globally, killing more than 4000, according to the World Health Organization.

THE COVID-19 CORONAVIRUS continues to spread and cause mass disruptions for the travel and hospitality industries. Some authorities say the outbreak is reaching pandemic levels, but at the same time they say not to panic.

As of March 10, the novel coronavirus had infected nearly 114,000 people globally, killing more than 4000, according to the World Health Organization. Most of the cases, nearly 90,000, were in China where the virus originated. In the U.S., more than 500 cases had been reported in 34 states as well as New York City and Washington, D.C., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There have been 19 deaths in the U.S., 18 of which were in Washington state.

Below is a roundup of COVID-19 related news.

Trump considers stimulus

President Trump on Tuesday petitioned Republican leaders to consider a large stimulus for the economy, which has been hard hit by virus related fears and supply disruptions. The plan includes paid sick leave for hourly workers and loans for small businesses affected by the coronavirus, according to Politico, but Trump’s request for a payroll tax was not well received.

“Well, I was just with the Republican senators, and there was — they were just about all there, mostly all there,” the president said in a briefing after the meeting. “And there’s a great feeling about doing a lot of things.”

The White House also was considering deferring taxes for the cruise, travel and airline industries, according to the Washington Post. That could be helpful considering the fact that in February the Baird/STR Hotel Stock Index dropped 11.7 percent to 4,296, according to STR.

Federal funding approved

Last week Congress approved $8.3 billion to cover the cost of responding to the outbreak. A strong response by the government is needed to reassure the traveling public, said Roger Dow, U.S. Travel Association president and CEO, in a statement.

“This measure should go a long way in reassuring the American people that their government is moving proactively to protect their health and safety—and that they can go about their daily lives, including travel, as long as they adhere to the basic health guidance of experts at the CDC,” Dow said. “Health and safety are paramount, but there is also a growing risk to the U.S. economy and jobs because of coronavirus uncertainty, which this measure will hopefully help to alleviate.”

Easing fears to encourage travel

USTA also issued a toolkit for industry members showing what they can do to alleviate travelers’ concerns about the virus. Travel agency AAA also has released guidance for staying safe while in the air or on the road, providing tips for preventing infection and discussing whether travel insurance can cover the cost of care.

“Research is important to any traveler ahead of a trip. It’s no different with the coronavirus,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president at AAA Travel.  “Become familiar with the CDC’s recommendations, consult your healthcare professional, talk to your travel provider about waiver policies and chat with a travel agent about travel insurance possibilities before making any decision.”

Hotel companies also are offering specials to encourage travel at this time. Best Western Hotels & Resorts, for example will allow all Best Western Rewards members to maintain their current status through Jan. 31, 2022, because some may be subject to travel restrictions. Members who may have already dropped a tier will be leveled up to their previous tier until the same date.

“The impact of the coronavirus on the travel industry is far-reaching,” said David Kong, Best Western’s president and CEO. “At Best Western, caring is in our DNA and I am immensely proud that we can demonstrate this spirit of caring by taking steps to protect our valued guests during this time of fear and uncertainty, we very much appreciate their loyalty and business. We are also working diligently to support our hoteliers who have and will continue to experience declines in business as a result of the virus.”

Other companies, such as Hilton, have provided waivers to guests who had to cancel travel plans because of the virus. At Radisson Hotel Group’s 2020 Americas Business Conference in Las Vegas last month, Federico González, chairman of RHG’s global steering committee, said the company was taking prudent steps in response to the outbreak.

Staying calm and carrying on

While some large events and conferences have been cancelled due to the virus, including ITB in Berlin and Austin’s South by Southwest festival, two of the largest hotel industry conferences will continue. The 2020 Hunter Hotel Investment Conference in Atlanta is one of them, as is the 2020 AAHOA Convention & Trade Show in Orlando.

“Based upon feedback I’ve received from the email, attendees are looking forward to the networking opportunity the conference provides and hearing what our extremely knowledgeable speakers have to say from the stage about current market conditions and the challenges ahead that now face our industry,” said Lee Hunter, Hunter Hotel Advisors chief operating officer, in a letter to sponsors of that conference. “Attendance is currently tracking the 2019 conference and we’ve had 31 new registrations in the last 24 hours.”

In a statement on its website, AAHOA said they are monitoring the situation.

“We remain in constant contact with our venue partners at the host hotels, the convention center, offsite facilities, and with our partners and government officials in Florida,” the association statement said. “While we are taking this issue very seriously and will take all necessary steps when appropriate, we are also looking forward to hosting another extraordinary AAHOA Convention and are eager to welcome our members and partners in Orlando next month.”