Mandy Farmer has never seen it this bad — not post 9/11, not with SARS and not during the 2008-09 recession.
“We’re definitely at risk,” said Farmer, the CEO of the Accent Inns and Hotel Zed chains.
“We’re fighting to keep our third-generation family business alive. In fact, I think every single hotel in Canada, whether it’s part of a big chain or a small family business, is in jeopardy in the COVID-19 pandemic. There are certainly going to be hotels that don’t make it.”
Occupancy at the 103-room Accent Inn and 55-room Hotel Zed in Kelowna is 10%. That means people are staying in only 10 rooms at the Accent Inn and five rooms at Hotel Zed.
The situation is the same at the other Accent Inns in Kamloops, Richmond, Burnaby and Victoria and the other Hotel Zed in Victoria.
“This is unprecedented,” said Farmer.
“Even with 9/11, SARS and the last recession, occupancy only dropped to about 50%, so 10% is the worst we’ve ever seen. It’s not sustainable. We need help and fast.”
The only people staying at the Kelowna Accent Inn and Hotel Zed are health-care workers who don’t want to go home and expose immune-compromised family members to possible novel coronavirus and relatives of out-of-town patients who have come to Kelowna for essential health care or medical procedures.
“There are no tourists at all and no business travellers,” said Farmer.
“We cannot just hope this is short-lived. We need to protect our team and our family and our business. It’s all about cash flow.”
For now, Farmer has laid off as few workers as possible, but in the next week or two she expects she will have to let go up to 80% of the 50 employees at the two Kelowna properties.
“What I want to see first is the government step up and take care of the team members I have to lay off,” she said.
Government is already starting to do that with immediate employment insurance and one-time emergency fund payments of $1,000 for those who suddenly find themselves out of work.
Farmer has taken a 50% reduction in pay in solidarity with laid-off workers who will be getting only 55% of their previous wage on employment insurance.
“Going forward for the business, we need property taxes deferred to next year, deferral for utility bills and whatever help the municipal, provincial and federal governments can offer,” she said.
“Amazing work has already been done by governments, but more has to be done.”
Meanwhile, another chain of local hotels is also making significant adjustments in the wake of COVID-19.
Kelowna-based Argus Properties owns and operates the Hotel Eldorado, Manteo Resort, Four Points by Sheraton and Hilton Hampton Inn and Suites.
The Hotel El on the lakeshore in the Lower Mission has been closed until at least April 30.
The marina at the El remains open to moorage members.
The Boathouse at the marina is scheduled to open for the Victoria Day long weekend.
Argus notes the El, which opened in 1926, has weathered many storms including the Great Depression, the Second World War, a fire in 1989, 9/11 and the economic crash of 2008.
Next door, Manteo Resort remains open with its restaurant, Smack Dab, available for take-out and room services.
Manteo has several self-contained suites that it says are ideal for first responders and their families who need social distancing and short-term furnished accommodation.
The Four Points by Sheraton, across Highway 97 from Kelowna International Airport, is open on a limited basis for first responders, road and air travellers and air crews.
The newly opened Hilton Hampton, also across the highway from the airport, is also open on a limited basis.
“These decisions are heart-breaking, and we remain committed to our community and to our several hundred team members,” said Argus president Ted Callahan.
“We look forward to welcoming everyone in the Okanagan back to the El and The Boardwalk (restaurant) as soon as responsibly possible. We are in uncharted territory, but as with all challenges that have come before us, and for those that will assuredly come after, we are confident we will prevail as a community.”