A report published Wednesday highlights the devastating and rapid damage the coronavirus crisis has caused to Greater Boston’s hotel industry, which just weeks ago was flourishing.
An analysis by Pinnacle Advisory Group, a Boston hotel consulting firm, shows business at hotels in the region falling steeply day by day as fears about the highly contagious virus — and shutdowns designed to blunt its spread — took hold earlier this month.
On March 5 and 6, business was still good at Boston-area hotels. A key measure of their financial health — revenue per available room, or RevPAR — was up about 25 percent, compared with those same days last year. But after cases of COVID-19 in the Boston area were confirmed, canceled conventions and shuttered colleges soon followed, along with a state of emergency declared by Governor Charlie Baker. By March 14, the Saturday night of St. Patrick’s Day weekend, RevPAR was a jaw-dropping 72 percent below last year’s figure.
“It’s striking how quickly this happened over just a few days,” said Sebastian Colella, vice president at Pinnacle and the report’s author. “All of their usual channels [of business] were just shut off immediately.”
Almost overnight, the hotel business, which in Boston and Cambridge last March averaged about $4.6 million in room revenue per night, according to Colella, all but evaporated.
Ten days later, hotels that are typically 80 percent full at this time of year have single-digit occupancy rates, Colella said, with maybe four or five guests in some cases. On Tuesday, his firm had a list of 20 hotels that had closed their doors altogether. on Wednesday, it learned of four or five more turning off the lights. As a result, some 18,000 hotel workers have been laid off, according to the Massachusetts Lodging Association, along with nearly 67,000 more from jobs that support the hotel industry.
Maybe worst of all, Colella said, is that there’s no telling when the guests might come back.
Conventions and other large events are “all but gone” through at least mid-May, he said. College graduations, typically boom weekends for Boston and Cambridge hotels, are moving online. The fate of the summer tourism season is anyone’s guess.
“Hotels we’re talking to, they’re looking at a best-case scenario of possibly flattening the curve this spring, and things start to come back in June or July,” he said. “At least get the corporate and leisure travelers back.”
Another option for hotels: Contract with local governments to become either quarantine centers or temporary housing for health care workers. That’s starting to happen in New York City and in other coronavirus hot spots. While Colella said he didn’t know of any Boston-area hotels that have done that yet, he figured it won’t be long. The revenue wouldn’t come close to what a hotel makes under normal circumstances, he said, but it’s better than nothing.
“It’s not like they have big [profit] margins under normal circumstances,” he said. “This type of situation can set lodging back for a long time.”