'We’re on our knees': Sask. hospitality industry crippled by Omicron
Jim Bence says the combination of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and freezing temperatures hammered the Saskatchewan hospitality industry over the holiday season.
“We're seeing hotels that those meetings and events just completely evaporated for January, February, anything that was on books, was gone by mid-December,” said Bence, president and CEO of the Hospitality Saskatchewan Association.
“We're out of money. We're on our knees.”
Bence says some employees that were laid off at the beginning of the pandemic were rehired and laid off again, creating less confidence in the industry and adding extra stress to the employees that remained.
According to Bence, the restaurant industry is "hanging on by fingernails."
“When you talk about on-table service you get a situation in which the variant has come up, people are a little bit more hesitant again,” he said.
“The cold, the polar vortex for three weeks, I mean people just really hunker down.”
While some restaurants have been able to pivot by adding a delivery component to their business, the hotel industry can't do the same thing.
“You cannot make somebody stay at your property,” Bence said. “You may have 200 rooms and you might have filled 100 of them on any given night, now you're down to you’re filling 20 or 30.”
“We're coming up upon two years of devastating revenue losses,” said Shawna Nelson, chair of the Saskatoon Destination Marketing Hotels Incorporated.
“The year ahead doesn't look too promising with the latest challenges that we're having with Omicron, and of course then there's the hint of other variants that are around the corner. This has created an environment of uncertainty.”
But, Nelson says, it’s not all bad news for hotels.
“We have the Saskatchewan advantage,” she said. “Just the other day our city received a lead for a bid for something that's coming right here around the corner in March because (of) the restrictions that are in Ottawa right now.
“Anyone that's planning anything in the next couple of months and are unable to do so in certain provinces, well, we are open and we hope they would consider looking at Saskatchewan.”
Nelson, who’s also the director of sales and marketing at the Sheraton Cavalier Hotel in Saskatoon, says she’s had to get creative in using space.
“We did take a look at that, and provide packages for working offices here at the hotel,” she said.
“Same with weddings. When the gathering numbers were different but yet you could still meet in the restaurants, because our hotel has a number of different restaurant outlets there were weddings that were happening in our food and beverage outlets, rather than in a traditional meeting space.”
Despite the creativity, Bence says with fixed costs reaching up to $250,000 a month, some hotels won’t be able to survive.
“Our downtown properties in Saskatoon anecdotally for the month of January are sitting at anywhere between 25 and 30 per cent occupancy. You can't even turn the lights on for that amount of money,” he said.
“Arguably we're in far worse shape than we were even a year ago.”
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