Hard-hit Memphis hospitality industry has started recalling some employees

The hard-hit Memphis hotel sector has started recalling some employees as tourist travel comes to life after the coronavirus shutdown.

Across the country, some travel-conscious families are driving again, including 112 youth baseball teams who converged for a weekend tournament on Snowden Grove in Southaven and other area ball fields.

“It’s going to take a while to revive our industry, but a lot of our attractions have already come back and reopened,” said Kevin Kane, president of Memphis Tourism, noting that hotels including The Peabody have started recalling workers. inactive.

After mayors and governors issued shelter-in-place orders in March aimed at slowing the rate of COVID-19 infection, about 65,700 jobs were lost in metropolitan Memphis the following month. About half of the jobs were lost among waiters, cooks, maids, bartenders, clerks and other hospitality workers.

Kevin Kane, CEO of Memphis Tourism, addresses the media in what is now the Renasant Convention Center on Thursday, November 21, 2019.

Hotel experts doubt the region will welcome as many travelers this year as it did last year, when 66% of the region’s 23,000 hotel and motel rooms were rented on a typical night.

Memphis-based hotel consultant Chuck Pinkowski predicts that travel will gradually rebound over the summer and slacken in the fall, resulting in an average occupancy rate for all of 2020 of around 42% for l Memphis hosting industry.

“We’re never going to go back to the ’60s or’ 70s this year, but we could be in the ’50s in August,” Pinkowski said, referring to occupancy rates.

Greater Memphis is now bouncing off most other regions, registering an occupancy rate of 42% compared to 36.6% nationally on May 30, he said. National and Memphis occupancy rates fell to around 21% in April.

Memphis’ hotel sector, which has 65,000 employees, relies on tourism and, in turn, helps support food vendors, musical performances, building maintenance, real estate brokers and other businesses that are not. not considered to be part of the tourism industry. As for the summer travel season, most of Memphis’ top attractions have reopened, with the exception of the National Civil Rights Museum and live music at nightclubs in historic Beale Street.

“The Peabody is calling people back. Graceland is calling people back. Restaurants are going back to full service. They are starting to call people back,” Kane said. “Memphis was one of the first cities to get back on track.”

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in downtown Memphis on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.

A surprise for employers was the time that some needed to find enough workers. Some hotels have to call three inactive employees to pick up a worker, Kane said. The reason: Many idle workers still don’t want to forgo federal unemployment compensation by adding $ 600 to their weekly assistance.

As they were made redundant, most applied under a state program providing up to about $ 275 per week for unemployment compensation for Tennessee residents. As the lockdown began to hit the economy, the US Congress created a stimulus package. It offers laid-off workers an additional $ 600 per week in federal unemployment benefits.

Kane believes that the $ 875 per week currently drawn by inactive workers could be revised so that the federal portion of $ 600 becomes an incentive paid temporarily to those who return to work.

For now, however, as travel improves again, most hotels aren’t so busy that they still need a full crew. Occupancy rates are still low by historical standards and will likely remain so throughout the year. It is unclear how many hotels and motels could close, although a wave of bankruptcies is expected among hotel, office and shopping center developments.

The pressure on hotels is the reluctance of business travelers to venture out until a COVID-19 drug hits the market. So far, some companies have canceled meetings and resorted to webinars and video chats, limiting the need for air travel and hotel rooms.

“I think there will be good buying opportunities in the real estate industry in various markets,” said Mark Helperin, COO of Memphis-based Boyle Investment Co. “We’re not on the lookout at the moment, but as things normalize we will be on the lookout.

With business travel still limited, Memphis Tourism aims to bring families to the area’s two dozen attractions.

“Our goal is to bring people back to hotels. We sell hotels,” Kane said of his agency, noting that a marketing campaign to attract visitors living within 600 miles of town is on the way. point to throw.

While air travel is likely limited due to social distancing issues, families will still drive on vacation, Kane said. Memphis tourist attractions, in turn, have adopted social distancing and potty programs intended to assure visitors. Graceland, for example, limits groups in the mansion to 10 people.

“It’s like taking a private tour now,” Kane said.

Helping the city’s attractiveness to tourists will be a picture relatively untouched by recent events, he said.

The pandemic has infected proportionately fewer residents here than in many other cities and has spared Memphis from being considered a hotbed of COVID-19. Likewise, the civil unrest in Memphis has not been marred by violence in recent days like in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Minneapolis as protesters protested against police tactics they called murderous and brutal.

“Any kind of disruption can certainly impact people who want to take a trip, whether for business or pleasure,” Kane said. “Even with the social unrest going on in the country, when you look at the impact on our city, I think the social protests in Memphis have been very positive compared to the challenges and issues faced by other cities.”

Peter M. Doran