May 27, 2020
The local tourism and restaurant industries are continuing to adapt as the state continues to move forward through Phase 1 of Gov. Ralph Northam’s reopening plan.
Ron Kirkland, executive director of the Williamsburg Hotel and Motel Association, said the first weekend of Phase 1 didn’t see a lot of change in business for local hotels. But even with the state partially reopening, that doesn’t necessarily mean revenue can be recouped quickly for the hotel industry. And Kirkland said it will be an uphill battle until local attractions such as Busch Gardens are able to reopen.“Some folks are wondering if our beaches would be open, if that would bring people,” he said. “We’re not going to get the people who want to go to Virginia Beach, but any little thing we can do for potential travelers will be beneficial not just to the lodging industry, but the entire town’s economy.” While locals can go to restaurants and improve that industry, hotels rely on people coming from out of town. To attract visitors, there need to be activities for them to do in the area.
The hotel industry has also taken a significant hit with the closure of William & Mary, he said. No longer were families booking stays for graduation ceremonies or to come visit the college and Kirkland said he hopes the college reopens and continues sports in the fall to bring in that revenue. Recent data has shown there’s a 95 percent decrease in revenue for the local hotel industry in April 2020 as compared to last year. He said for a small business, such as a 50-room hotel or even a bed and breakfast, that’s devastating.“That’s a huge hit, you can’t just replace that money,” he said. “It’s people coming from somewhere else with wallets full of money…so we just have to move along a little faster towards getting things reopened as close to normal as we can.” Once more begin to reopen and people start booking rooms, Kirkland said staffing issues come into question.
There’s one thing, though. Many employees aren’t returning to work right away because they’re making more money now with unemployment benefits and stimulus checks from the federal government. “They’ll be hesitant to come back to work and I don’t blame them,” Kirkland said. “But we need them to come back to work… we will have to have people back in those positions to be able to operate.”Restaurants had some restrictions lifted during the Phase 1, but it doesn’t necessary mean they can return to normal operations. Debi Schaefer, executive director for the Williamsburg Area Restaurant Association, wrote in an email some of their members have managed to hire 50 to 60 percent of their staff back but some employees are still on unemployment. “Keep in mind that some of our members remain closed and some are only doing pick up,” she wrote. “So since they don’t have 100% of their normal business, they wouldn’t have 100% of normal staffing.”
Schaefer knows of few restaurants who are hiring but that the uptick happens every year after Memorial Day to prepare for the summer. “I have not heard any restaurant mention that they have staff concerned about returning to work,” she added.Michelle Sieling, owner of Aromas Coffeehouse Bakeshop & Café, said they are in the process of rehiring staff and hiring new ones. “We have not had anyone express concerns about coming back to work,” she wrote. “They are happy to be back and being able to interact with the team and our wonderful customers.”
Jacqueline Liebler, general manager of Revolution Golf & Grille, also rehired most of their staff ––75 percent––and the remaining staff are part-time, still getting unemployment. “Everyone came back without hesitation but their concerns are the same as mine in regards to when the PPP [paycheck protection program] runs out and we are not fully open what will happen next,” he wrote in an email. “I have been extremely transparent with our team and everyone’s involved with the knowledge of all our purchases the costs and sales. This helps them understand exactly what we are going through with this pandemic and its effect on our business.”