NEWPORT, R.I. — Hotel owners and operators say they need a target date from state officials so they can begin booking out-of-state guests who won’t face a 14-day quarantine upon arrival, reports the Providence Journal, which is a part of the USA TODAY Network.
“Without a target date, we can’t market and plan,” said Kate DeCosta, chief operating officer for the Newport Experience, which operates the OceanCliff Hotel. “Without a date, we can’t start booking rooms. Every day we can’t do that, we are held back from recapturing lost revenues. It’s a double whammy now.”
“I’m hoping it’s the first week of June that the quarantine is lifted, but by July 1 at the latest,” said Walter Andrews, general manager of the Newport Marriott, the largest hotel in the city with 320 rooms. “It’s crucial we have a date. I can’t make a move without direction from the state.”
“We need a date to go by, so we can start marketing,” said Rocky Kempenaar, who owns four hotels in Middletown: Residence Inn by Marriott, Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton and Howard Johnson by Wyndham. All together, the hotels have more than 400 rooms and at peak season there are better than 100 employees, he said.
“It has to be done soon,” Kempenaar said. “If we have a good July, August and September, it would make all the difference in the world. I think the goal of everyone in the business is to get the quarantine lifted so we can start making reservations and stop the bleeding. We need to make enough money this year to just pay our bills and get us to next summer.”
“It’s a problem that we don’t have a targeted date,” said Colin Kane, co-owner of the new Hammetts Hotel on America’s Cup Avenue that was scheduled to open Memorial Day, but that date was pushed to mid-June because of the pandemic.
“We are all shooting in the dark right now,” he said.
“It’s not just for the hotels, it’s for the marinas as well,” Kane said. “We can’t take a marina guest from out-of-state for more than 24 hours. We’re all looking for guidance from the governor’s office that says, ‘Here’s the target for lifting the quarantine.’”
“Even if the target was that we are not going to open up all summer, at least it would be guidance,” he said. If that were the case, he might not open the hotel this summer at all, he said.
“I’m hoping we will open — I’m pretty confident we will, but we have held off hiring,” Kane added.
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Hoteliers depend on out-of-state visitors, who make up 84% of their guests. Rhode Island residents account for only 16% of all lodging booked in Newport on an annual basis, said Evan Smith, president and CEO of Discover Newport.
“Hotels cannot make a living on that 16%,” he said.
“People who live in Rhode Island don’t vacation in Rhode Island,” DeCosta agreed.
Visitors from four states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey — account for about 50% of all lodging booked in Newport, Smith said.
In 2019, 17% of all reservations were international, with Canada, Europe and Asia being the top three markets, he said.
The remaining 17% came from a wide variety of other states, but mid- Atlantic states like Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia rank highest among them, he said.
Currently by the executive order of Gov. Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island hotels and rental companies must inform their out-of-state guests — except for those here on business — they must self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
“Newport is in competition with other vacation destinations in New England and the Northeast, and if those destinations can begin booking rooms before Newport, Newport will suffer,” said DeCosta at Newport Experience, which also operates Regatta Place, the Goat Island Marina, the Schooner Aurora, Stone House in Little Compton and the Safari Room Restaurant at OceanCliff in addition to the OceanCliff Hotel.
“There are people who want to drive to a regional vacation destination and stay in a hotel, and we have to start capturing them now,” she said. “How long can this go on? People making decisions at the state level have to be aware of how this is affecting business owners.”
At OceanCliff and the Stone House, the company had $1.2 million in revenue in 2019, DeCosta said. Right now, because of the shut down, they have forecast $175,000 in revenues. At all the Newport Experience properties there is a much higher annual revenue total, but that figure is not publicized, she said
“A lot of our guest room income is tied to weddings and other group bookings, but with weddings and corporate events canceled, the company is hoping to make up losses with transient guests,” DeCosta said.
“We can improve on our $175,000 forecast if we had the ability to market to transient guests,” she said.
There are 18 hotels and motels in Newport, 83 bed & breakfast inns and six timeshare locations, according to data from Smith.
At those Newport locations, there are 2,361 total rooms that bring in $130 million in revenue annually, Smith said. If all the cottage rentals and short-term rentals booked through firms like Airbnb, VRBO, Homeaway and others are included, the total annual revenues are over $200 million, Smith said.
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There are an additional 1,578 total hotel, motel and bed & breakfast rooms in Middletown, according to the data.
Of all the lodging establishments, 80% elected to close down when the pandemic restrictions began in March, Smith said.
The Newport Marriott remained open during the shutdown, but room occupancy ranged from 2% to 8%, said general manager Andrews.
“We stayed open because we have military folk booked for long-term stays,” he said. “We also wanted to see if there was some type of need, like for first responders.”
A “skeleton crew” was kept at the hotel, Andrews said. Most of the hotel’s revenues come from out-of-state visitors, so the majority of employees will not be brought back until those guests can book rooms, he said.
“We have become an important part of the state’s economy and a global destination,” Kane said. “Let’s celebrate that and take advantage of the fact we are a drive-to location for most of our guests. I don’t think a lot of people are going to get on planes anytime soon.”
Vermont has given the go-ahead to its lodging establishments to start booking guests to arrive after June 15. In Cape May, New Jersey, another competitive vacation spot for Newport, guests can book after June 1, according to online information.
“I’ve talked to dozens of hotel owners and this status of not knowing is hurting their businesses,” Smith said. “They need some guidance and a time frame from the state so they can prepare. The need time to gear up.”
If there is going to be a quarantine for out-of-state visitors all summer, some hotels might elect not to reopen, he said.
“People won’t pay hundreds of dollars to stay in a hotel room if they are not free to roam about,” Smith said.
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This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Coronavirus: Rhode Island hotel owners frustrated about visitor rules