Alexandria hotels are still suffering, but there may be signs of relief on the horizon.
The continued beating of the hospitality industry by Covid has been one of the main talking points of the budget so far: especially because city leaders say it could lead to increased fiscal pressure on residents of the city.
Visit Alexandria chief operating officer Tom Kaiden said while the recovery has been slow, some aspects of the hospitality industry could return to near pre-pandemic levels this year, while d Others will take longer to recover.
“There is no doubt that a host of issues have impacted the sector,” Kaiden said. “the continuing nature of the pandemic, the recent omicron spike, reduced business travel, supply chain and labor challenges, inflation – all of those headwinds that the sector has been confronted.”
Before the pandemic, Kaiden said occupancy numbers were at record highs. The trajectories charted at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 expected to reach a record occupancy rate in the summer of 2020 – but this obviously did not happen. That spring, hotel occupancy fell to 8%.
Kaiden said while the city saw a dramatic reduction in occupancy rates early in the pandemic, there have been signs of recovery over the past year. The occupancy rate rose to 53% against 34% at the same time last year.
“There is national data that looks at the makeup and predicts what they think is going to happen,” Kaiden said. “We looked at the data from Economy of Oxford [that says] leisure will return to normal in 2022, but business travel will not recover until 2024. The long-term vision is that business travel will recover, but we are still a few years away. This year, we expect a 24% drop in business travel. »
Kaiden said while people are ready to travel again, businesses tend to be more reluctant.
“Individuals seem ready to travel again, we see this in consumer confidence in the desire to travel,” Kaiden said. “They may not have wanted to travel in January, but they were still dreaming of traveling when the immediate variant subsided. Individuals make this choice for themselves more freely. Employers are more risk averse, more reluctant and use tools like Zoom and hybrid meetings.
Although Kaiden said these are useful short-term strategies, the city is banking on the return of in-person business travel. While the long-term effects of COVID on use of office space are unknown, Kaiden said in-person meetings have a value that cannot be fully replicated online.
Beyond COVID, one of the other major upheavals in the hospitality industry has been the rise of alternative accommodation like Airbnb. The town started authorize and collect taxes transitional accommodation in 2018, although this type of accommodation was also affected by the pandemic. In terms of the impact on local hotels, Kaiden said transient accommodation is not having as much of an effect in Alexandria as in other tourist destinations.
“We’ve seen Airbnb grow nationally, but it’s more of a long-term stay alternative, so their prevalence in markets like metro DC…the impact isn’t as big here than in traditional mountain and beach destinations,” Kaiden said. . “So yes, Airbnb is a factor, but less here and honestly hotels are adapting their offerings and essentially being more nimble.”
In response to both Covid and transitional accommodation options like Airbnb, Kaiden said hotels are focused on guiding visitors around the locality as much as providing a room.
“Our hotels work very well with guests to guide the guest experience and ensure they get the most out of their stay,” Kaiden said. “At Visit Alexandria, we’re working with them on a set of key city attractions that encourage people to get out into the community and explore the museums. This level of personalized service and the added benefit of the inclusion of attractions gives visitors a deeper, richer experience and allows them to get out into neighborhoods and see the city in much the same way as an unguided experience. – like staying in an Airbnb-style property – just isn’t as rich.