Canadian Lodging News interviewed Ingrid Jarrett, president and CEO of the British Columbia Hotel Association about the COVID-19 pandemic. “Not one area in British Columbia has been left unscathed by Covid-19,” she told CLN. “Our city centres are empty – our rural highways are empty – and hotels around the province are open to support the supply chain, essential workers and returning Canadians to ensure isolation is available. Our team has been working hand in hand with government to secure locations all around the province to support our medical frontline teams, and that there is always somewhere to provide shelter to our most vulnerable.”
CLN: What were some of the early signs for you that the COVID-19 pandemic would be serious?
Ingrid Jarrett: When the COVID-19 outbreak hit China and the Asian region first, we were already anticipating a reduction in international visits from one of our top visiting regions. We conducted an early survey to help quantify the impact that a reduction in international visitors from Asia would have, and that was our first indicator.
In the first weeks of the outbreak we were already seeing cancellations being made through the fall. We knew the impact would be more serious when cases grew in British Columbia and containment protocols began taking place. The corporate and government response to business travel was also an early sign as we were able to measure cancellations directly affecting hotels.
In a two week period we saw 80 per cent of reservations from the leisure, corporate and group sector cancel. There was no doubt at that point this was going to be devastating for our industry.
CLN: What role can BCHA play during this crisis?
Ingrid Jarrett: We have made a full pivot to address our industry’s needs as we navigate this together. BCHA has and will continue to play a leadership role in connecting our industry with liquidity and with employee services to support the strength of the employer/employee relationship. Additionally, we play a lead role in quantifying the impact, collating industry protocols and best practices, everything from check lists to health protocols in on our website and COVID-19 webpage. We are also acting as the spokesperson on behalf of hotels to help communicate the industry’s most pressing needs and to share the critical stories that are coming out of this pandemic – good and challenging.
CLN: What are the main concerns you are hearing from members?
Ingrid Jarrett: Liquidity is the #1 concern for industry, along with the BC Labour Code’s 13-week limit for temporary layoff, rent burden and property tax burden. Ultimately hotels are either closed or operating with minimal revenue to support essential workers – this means there is no money to pay for rent, property taxes or utilities. Hotels need government at all levels to step up and relieve the burden or a significant number of businesses will be forced to close their doors permanently. Additionally, BCHA is playing a role with strategic recovery initiatives to ensure our industry is healthy and ready to rebound when the time is right. It is abundantly clear that our industry, made up of small and medium independently owned and operated hotels has very fine margins, and very little capacity to weather financial hardship for any period of time. Therefore, the swift response for liquidity measures is critical to ensure or industry survives.
CLN: What steps has BCHA taken to help its members?
Ingrid Jarrett: BCHA has developed a resource library for all hoteliers to access up to do date information as needed. We have dedicated pages on best practices and protocols for properties, how to access financial support for businesses and employees, and continued updates on our advocacy efforts.
We are distributing multiple communications to members per week with messaging from myself, our key partners, and updated information and resources on support available to them. We are monitoring federal, provincial and regional updates that would be relevant to our audience and we’re disseminating that information as there is a lot of noise at the moment and we want to ensure the industry is receiving the most pertinent and valued information. Most importantly we are sharing in real time, the information to support our industry and communities to stay in formed and access what support mechanisms have been launched.
We’ve been working closely with all levels of government the Regional Destination Marketing Organizations to continue to quantify the impact of COVID-19 to the hotel industry and to ensure we’re collecting real time weekly impact data for the province. This enables Government to understand the impact and encourages our industry to work together with our partner organisations to ensure our industry survives this pandemic.
Our annual Summit has been postponed to the fall, when we will ensure we are once again providing the most relevant conference for hotel operators and hospitality businesses in BC.
CLN: Are there any pockets of hotels in B.C. that have been hurt less than others?
Ingrid Jarrett: All corners of the province have seen some sort of impact.
CLN: Any that have found the crisis more devastating?
Ingrid Jarrett: Not one area in British Columbia has been left unscathed by Covid-19. Our city centres are empty – our rural highways are empty – and hotels around the province are open to support the supply chain, essential workers and returning Canadians to ensure isolation is available. Our team has been working hand in hand with government to secure locations all around the province to support our medical frontline teams, and that there is always somewhere to provide shelter to our most vulnerable.
CLN: What are some of the good news stories you have heard from your members?
Ingrid Jarrett: Positive stories are coming from all over and we’re so encouraged to see our community come together – when properties were facing vulnerabilities and the impact to the virus themselves, their number one concern was how they could help support other. Our members have donated thousands of dollars in food when they were closing their hotels to their employees who were laid off, and to food banks. Hotels are providing shelter and the United Way and the Red Cross are stepping up to partner and support the costs of some accommodators or some sectors requiring shelter. There is as sense of community, and connectedness as we work closely with our tourism organizations and our beverage licensees around the province. We are in this together, we are resilient – but this is like nothing we have ever experienced before.
CLN: What encouragement or advice would you have to members going forward?
Ingrid Jarrett: Moving from survival to recovery is going to be a new challenge as we will need to innovate – and be agile with reopening our industry. Getting involved in recovery strategies will enable a new way of doing business to surface – as so many industries are working from home and gathering on different platforms. Our goal is to continue to provide exceeded value for our industry so we can support additional savings when hotels open once again, and that the flow to the bottom line is improved.