The hotel industry, like so many others, is doing everything it can to stay viable during the COVID-19 pandemic

May 21, 2020

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In Milwaukee, hotels like the Iron Horse, Potowatomi and the Pfister, all closed early on in the pandemic.

They’re not alone.

Trish Pugal, interim CEO of the Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association said at the start of the pandemic, 18,000 hotel and lodging employees were furloughed.

She said that number likely has increased significantly.

“Approximately 40 percent to 45 percent of the lodging properties around the state have actually closed, even though we are designated an essential business,” Pugal said. “Those that have stayed open, for example, for other essential business workers, for first responders, if they get double-digit occupancy, they’re doing better than most.”

Pugal said it is difficult to say for sure how many, if any, hotels will have to close permanently from the financial stress the pandemic caused.

“Certainly, looking at the financial challenges at this point, it’s hard to predict where, when, what number, anything like that. It depends on how long it takes for some of the travel to increase,” Pugal said.

According to a survey done by the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), nearly nine out of 10 hotels have laid off or furloughed staff during the pandemic.

The survey said many hotels don’t expect to return to pre-COVID staffing until 2021.

At the Iron Horse Hotel, management said they have been closed since March 21 and are now bringing back some furloughed employees to prepare to reopen on June 1.

“We decided it was in the best interest of our staff and also of our guests for us to close our doors and really focus on cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting, making sure that our spaces were absolutely sparkling clean,” said Jordan Dechambre, director of lifestyle at the Iron Horse Hotel. “So that when we opened up on June 1, we would be a wonderful place for people to call their home away from home.”

Dechambre said they plan on implementing a number of different measures to help keep their employees and hotel guests safe.

“We’re looking at testing (employees’) temperatures when they come through the door in the morning. If anyone has a fever, they will not be allowed in the building. If (an employee) is showing signs of COVID-19, they are not to come to work,” Dechambre said. “We have some branded Iron Horse Hotel face masks they’ll be wearing at the hotel, so they can feel really safe when they’re here and guests can also feel safe.”

In response to the pandemic and hotels slowly reopening, the AHLA released enhanced industry-wide hotel cleaning standards.

“We’re really making sure our hotel is properly socially distanced,” Dechambre said. “So when looking at our lobby, we’re making sure everything has plenty of room in between where people might be sitting. We’re also reviewing signage throughout our hotel, really reminding people to wash their hands, to be careful, to not touch their faces, to not have more than two people in an elevator at a time and then also looking at things down the road like looking at all-digital menus.”

The standards include guidance on hand washing and hand sanitizer usage, COVID-19 training and personal protective equipment for employees, and cleaning of rooms and public spaces.