Low occupancy forces closure of hotels in N.L., while others worry they're next in line

·3 min read
Low occupancy forces closure of hotels in N.L., while others worry they're next in line
Heather Gillis/CBC
Heather Gillis/CBC

This year has been tough on the hospitality industry in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the holiday season offered no reprieve for many.

The Luxus Boutique Hotel in downtown St. John's closed its doors permanently on Dec. 20.

Chris Woodley was the manager, and has been in the industry for 35 years.

"It's been devastating, for sure. Our occupancies have been down to next to nothing," Woodley told CBC News on Wednesday.

"We're a small, independent hotel. We rely on national and international travellers. Most of our guests are from within the province. ... Without them coming we lost all of our business."

Woodley said the occasional honeymoon or anniversary guests just aren't sustainable, and as tourism drops off in the winter months the hotel would rely on corporate guests for its $400 a night rooms.

"Everything is electronic now. ... I fear that the Zoom meetings will just take over. Everybody is watching their pennies, I guess, and expenses and things, and that's one way to save a bundle of money I would expect," he said.

"You can do everything from home."

Aside from that, Woodley said the bookings just weren't there over the holidays like they were last year to help keep the business going.

Heather Gillis/CBC
Heather Gillis/CBC

Hotel owner Lloyd Hillier is fearing the same fate for his businesses.

Hillier owns five hotels, two of which are in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and the others in St. Anthony, North Sydney and Northwest River.

Hillier said business has been bad over the holiday season, and since Newfoundland and Labrador's exit from the Atlantic bubble.

He said occupancy is at 10 per cent right now, compared to a normal year where he would see about 70 per cent.

WATCH | The CBC's Heather Gillis looks at how the pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the hotel industry:

"You go in now [and] you can take a bowling ball and throw it down the hallway. There's no body around any more," he said.

In recent years rooms at Hillier's hotels were consistently booked. However, this summer his hotel in St. Anthony hotel lost 100 bus tours on account of the pandemic.

"If it doesn't improve I guess closure is the next thing," he said.

Success comes from the team

But, some hotels are managing to push through.

Best Western Hotel, which sits on the doorstep of St. John's International Airport, is holding on despite the drastic drop in traffic through one of the busiest entry points in the province.

Operations manager Stafford Jenkins said it's thanks to pushing staycation packages, marketing on social media and park-and-fly packages for offshore workers.

Heather Gillis/CBC
Heather Gillis/CBC

"Yesterday we were at almost 40 per cent [capacity], today we're at 30-35 per cent and tomorrow night, obviously, we're about 55-60 per cent," he said.

Those numbers are still far off of last year's sales, Jenkins said, noting last year's numbers for the same time period were at about 90 per cent capacity, and the year previous was near 100 per cent capacity.

"There is a slight difference, but all things considered, when nobody knew what the future held for us, we still consider this a victory," he said.

"A lot of the success of where we are right now has to do with the team, but also it has a lot to do with what we did as far as planning goes."

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