COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Hotels in Columbia continue to try and stay afloat during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as many have stopped traveling.
According to numbers from the Columbia Convention and Visitor's Bureau, the occupancy rate of hotels in the City of Columbia from September, the latest available data, is just above 20% lower than it was in 2019.
The industry has bounced back some from the first major dip during the pandemic. Rates fell to 21.5% in April.
Strategic Communications Manager from the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, Megan McConachie, said fall months are more difficult to compare because event schedules like University of Missouri football games are different year to year.
Trey Propes, the president of the Missouri Hotel and Lodging Association, said it would have been impossible to survive if numbers had stayed that low.
"At least we're not still in the 20-percent where, you know, you can't pay your bills, you just can't. No hotel can pay the bills off of 20% of the revenue they had in years past," he said.
He said being in the 40% range is much better but still will not be enough more many places to pay all of their bills.
Propes said one major thing that has impacted the industry in Columbia is canceled events.
"Columbia's probably canceled more events than most communities, and they are event-driven, whereas Branson and the lake aren't necessarily event-driven, they're also vacations," he said.
McConachie said as more events like MU football games resume, even at a limited capacity, there will be an increase of people traveling to Columbia which could boost occupancy rates.
"Even at just a quarter capacity we did still see people here in town for that very first home game and then again for that kind of surprise home game," she said.
The convention and visitors bureau has been working to help the hotel industry by keeping them aware of changing the COVID-19 health order.
The bureau has also relaunched its leisure marking campaign to tell people how they can travel to Columbia safely.
"We have a really strong emphasis on our mask ordinance and keeping social distance and washing your hands so people who are taking those road trips, which is really what we're seeing now, that if they end up in Columbia that it's safe for them and for our community," she said.
That campaign is targeted at people who live within driving distance of Columbia.
The bureau also received just over $450,000 that was divided up among three different areas: supplies, safe events, and marketing.
Propes also said many hotels have lowered rates in an effort to get more people to book rooms, but he said that probably is not working because people are not traveling.
Propes said Columbia has also been harder hit than other places because it has so many hotel rooms if you are not taking into account festivals and other events.
"That's what Columbia is built upon. It's got 40 hotels because of that. It doesn't have 40 hotels because the day-to-day needs of people who come to Columbia are 40 hotels. They're not. They're probably 20 hotels," he said.
Propes said he is concerned about the property taxes hotels will be responsible to pay at the end of the year. He said it is difficult for businesses to plan that far ahead when they are facing new challenges every day.
McConachie said the last few months of each year and January are typically slower months, and hotels will have to be patients because it will be a long time before tourism in Columbia is back to where it was in 2019.
Propes said because money from the previous months in 2020 is lost, hotels will continue to face tough decisions like the owner of the Holiday Inn Executive Center had to.
"I think we're going to see more of that as people who are struggling try to find some way to get through. Either, do I walk away this? You know, what I've spent my life or my last five to ten years building or do I just cut my losses because I can't it," he said.
McConachie said hotels have told the Convention and Visitors Bureau they are starting to see more business from leisure, sports and business travel.