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Hotels’ business and staffing may be down by as much as 90 percent

A doorman worked by the entrance of  the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston.
A doorman worked by the entrance of the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston.David L. Ryan

Hotel and other hospitality business in the Boston area has dropped by as much as 90 percent, and employees are being laid off at the same rate, as travel and social gatherings contract to slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Massachusetts Lodging Association and a union that represents 12,000 workers at hotels, convention centers, casinos, and university dining halls.

Several hotels have closed. They include the Marriott Long Wharf, site of the Biogen conference that spawned the Boston outbreak, where at least one employee tested positive for the virus; the Loews Boston Hotel in the Back Bay; and at least four other properties outside of Boston which are in the process of closing or have closed.

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Dozens more are actively considering doing so.

Marriott International, the world’s largest hotel company, with dozens of properties in the Boston area, said Tuesday that it expected to furlough tens of thousands of workers worldwide as hotels close, according to news reports. Employees won’t be paid but will keep their health benefits.

In Massachusetts, job losses in the hotel industry due to the pandemic could top 84,000, including positions supported by hotels such as food suppliers, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association. That’s 41 percent of all of the hotel-related jobs in the state. Nationwide, job losses could hit 4.4 million.

“We have properties that have one housekeeper and one public area attendant working,” said Carlos Aramayo, president-elect of Unite Here Local 26. “We have properties that have gone from over 100 union employees to less than 10.”

The ripple effect goes far beyond the hotel workers, noted Paul Sacco, president of the state’s lodging association. “The trickle-down is not limited to the hotel," he said. "It’s everybody around it. It’s purveyors and everybody else.”

On Monday, the union started a phone bank — including some callers who are out of work — to contact all 12,000 members in the Boston area and Rhode Island to offer assistance and let them know they can remain on union health insurance for six months. The union is also offering to help them navigate unemployment and food assistance programs and share resources for paying mortgage and utility bills.

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The union is also in talks with employers about extending sick time, ramping up cleaning to protect workers still on the job, and providing compensation. At least one union employer, the Encore Boston Harbor, is paying full-timers while the casino is closed for two weeks.

Unions are accustomed to work stoppages and assisting out-of-work employees, though the sudden public health emergency is clearly unprecedented.

“I think there is a level of emergency preparedness and response that our leadership has that is very useful in a moment like this,” Aramayo said.

John Flannery, a doorman for 25 years at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, where he said occupancy is in the single digits, has been out of work for a week. Flannery’s wife is preparing for surgery, and doctors advised him to stay away from the public to ensure she stays healthy. So Flannery, 56, is on unpaid family medical leave through the end of April.

"We'll have to adjust daily," he said. "We'll take it as it comes."

The Fairmont Copley, like other hospitality employers, did not respond to questions.

At least one hotel is doing what it can to keep employees on the payroll. On Friday, the Mandarin Oriental, Boston rolled out a plan for staff to provide at-home housekeeping, meal deliveries, and spa services to Back Bay residents stuck at home. But by Tuesday, the hotel had dropped all but the meal deliveries to abide by the six-foot social-distancing rules — and it had added dog-walking, for $22 an hour.

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The outbreak has had a “noticeable impact” on occupancy, said general manager Philipp Knuepfer. Indeed, over an hour on Sunday morning, while flames flickered in the massive fireplace near the front desk and Knuepfer’s golden retrievers sat near his feet, only two guests passed through the lobby.

Some of the hotel’s 200 permanent employees are taking vacation and sick time; others are on unpaid leave. Some, like Donna Dean, a housekeeper who has been with the hotel since it opened 12 years, ago, have had their hours cut. So she volunteered for the in-home cleanings, and said she wasn’t concerned about social distancing.

"I interact with all different guests," she said. "It won't be any different."

Nearly 40 percent of the staff have been at the Mandarin since its 2008 opening, Knuepfer saod, and he’s trying mightily to protect them — and to bring in much-needed revenue.

“What can we do to combat this and try to make sure people keep hours?” Knuepfer said. “We can basically generate work.”


Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.