Pandemic's impact on hotels, tourism could be worse than Great Depression, experts say

The COVID-19 pandemic flipped a profitable start to 2020 on its head for the hotel industry.

The hospitality industry has taken a hit so drastic that a new study says the impact is nine times worse than 9/11. According to data collected by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, this year’s occupancy rate is forecasted to be worse than the Great Depression in 1933.

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“It is more than accurate. We’ve never experienced a global shutdown,” explained Visit Tampa Bay president and CEO, Santiago Corrada.

He said hotels in Hillsborough County have laid off or furloughed staff and over a dozen have temporarily shut down.

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“Occupancy was right around 50% and then April has been even worse. Hotel revenues have dropped 85% with occupancies hovering around 20%,” Corrada said.

With new hotels going up in downtown Tampa and hundreds of established properties along the beaches, the pandemic presents a big blow to the industry in the Bay Area.

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Visit St. Pete-Clearwater is using a marketing campaign to let consumers know brighter days are ahead.

“More than 100,000 jobs tied to tourism in Pinellas County alone and they’re drastically being affected,” said Leroy Bridges the vice president of digital and communication at Visit St. Pete-Clearwater. “And that’s why we lean on our locals to help us come out of this, to help support our local businesses and maybe take that staycation if you feel comfortable with it, is going to be very important.”

But industry experts say the numbers can’t account for the demand people may have for travel when it’s safe again.

“People haven’t been locked up as long as we’ve been locked up. So I have a feeling that staying viable is important because I have a feeling that people are going to want to get out there and live life again,” Bridges said.

That study by the American Hotel and Lodging Association says eight in 10 hotel rooms are empty right now -- and Tampa Bay hotels are doing what they can to stay afloat. Tourism leaders say hotels and attractions may soon turn to advertisements centered around safety and cleanliness to entice consumers back into travel.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know


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