Its voluntary closure on April 7, the first shutdown in its 128-year history, was a demonstration of just how damaging the novel coronavirus has been to Colorado’s travel and leisure economy. On Wednesday, after going 64 nights without accommodating a guest, the Brown Palace Hotel & Spa reopened.
It may not be the typical rush the historic hotel is accustomed to this time of year, but with around 50 rooms booked Wednesday night and 100 rooms expected to be filled each night this weekend, Brown Palace general manager Nick Moschetti on Wednesday morning said he and his staff were excited to get back to providing a top-quality hospitality experience.
The hotel’s spa has been open in limited fashion for a few weeks, Moschetti said, but the Ship Tavern and food service in its iconic lobby are also back in business this week. Guests will be required to wear masks when moving around the hotel.
The Brown Palace’s decision to get back to turning down beds and serving afternoon tea is the latest sign Colorado’s hotel industry is coming back to life as coronavirus restrictions are rolled back.
“It’s been a constant process of evaluating the market, evaluating demand,” Moschetti said. “This weekend we saw a consistent pickup, we saw consistent rooms being booked and this is just when business justified us opening the door.”
But it’s not all good news for Colorado’s hotel industry, one of the segments of the economy most battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amie Mayhew, president and CEO of the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, said that while leisure travel is picking up, meetings and group events of more than 10 people remain on hold across much of the state under Gov. Jared Polis’s latest COVID-19 restrictions. Until larger gatherings are allowed to occur again, Colorado hotels, which the American Hotel and Lodging Association estimates did $12 billion in sales and employed more than 98,000 people last year, will continue to struggle and shed jobs, Mayhew predicts.
“As we talk with hotels that are really driven by group meetings, even if they can generate some leisure travel, it really is not enough for them to stop laying off employees or bring people back to work,” Mayhew said.
In a letter sent Monday, the CHLA requested an immediate executive order allowing meeting rooms and hotel-based restaurants to reopen at 50% capacity. Unless a roadmap to reopening comes out soon, Mayhew said, bookings through the end of the year and even into early 2021 will suffer.
The Brown Palace is open but its sister property, the 231-room Holiday Inn Express located across Tremont Place, is not expected to reopen until July. Moschetti last month informed the state labor department that what were expected to be short-term layoffs for 298 employees at the Brown Palace may now extend past six months. Of the combined 340 staff that work at both hotels, only 85 were back at work as of Wednesday, he said. The reason the Holiday Inn Express remains closed: No large events to drive business.
“It doesn’t have the draw of the Brown Palace,” he said. “It enjoys occupancy from Denver city-wide stuff that obviously isn’t happening right now.”
The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon, which has privately owned condos among its offerings, never fully closed down. On May 25, the hotel got the green light to open up to leisure travelers so long as it didn’t exceed 50% capacity. Later this month, if it meets all the requirements set forth by county health leaders, it could go back to 75% to 100% capacity.
“As we’ve welcomed guests back, it’s just been great to have energy back in the resort,” general manager Kristen Pryor said. “That’s what we’re all about.”
Eagle County’s rules allow group events of up to 50 people, and on June 18, the Westin Riverfront plans to host a ticketed outdoor bluegrass and barbecue party for 50 guests on its 3,000-square-foot outdoor lawn, Pryor said, using blankets to emphasis social distancing guidelines. It could be the first of several such events this summer, but at a property with 7,000 square feet of meeting space accustomed to hosting dozens of weddings each year, Pryor is also hoping for more leeway from the state government.
“We are definitely in favor of what CHLA is asking for in allowing meeting back into Colorado as soon as possible,” Pryor said, adding she has heard Eagle County might seek a variance allowing groups of up to 250 to congregate this summer. “We are evaluating what that looks like in our meeting space and how we can accommodate those groups with social distancing.”
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