Hospitality industry dealing with latest coronavirus surge

Posted at 6:50 PM, Nov 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-08 20:50:47-05

Arizona’s hotel and restaurant industries are bracing for continued challenges as the state is dealing with an uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

On Sunday, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 1,880 new cases and 17 new deaths tied to coronavirus. Doctors are warning against unnecessary travel and gatherings heading into the holiday season as restaurants have been dealing with occupancy restrictions for months.

Steve Chucri, president of the Arizona Restaurant Association, told ABC15 the industry group is working to help member restaurants expand real estate outside, wherever possible. “We’ve got tents going up across the Valley into patios, into parking lots,” he said. “Many of the municipalities have been great in working with us and getting us an ‘extension of premises’ to go onto sidewalks and smaller areas, maybe closing down streets and bringing tables out.”

Chucri estimates up to 1,200 restaurants have closed statewide since the start of the pandemic and up to 40 percent of pre-pandemic restaurant workers have not been hired back. The catering industry has been hit especially hard, he said, as conventions and conferences have been postponed or canceled.

“People aren’t getting those boxed lunches, they’re not going to a fine dining restaurant in the banquet room to hear a presentation,” he said. “In isolation, it doesn’t seem like much, but in totality, it’s big.”

Hotels are also suffering due to significantly decreased demand. According to the most recent data from the Arizona Office of Tourism, lodging in Arizona was down more than 20 percent in September and close to 30 percent year-to-date. A recent report from the American Hotel and Lodging Association found half of all hotels nationwide were in danger of foreclosure and hotel owners expected to lay off more employees before year’s end.

Last week, Governor Doug Ducey announced $7 million through the federal CARES Act to help small businesses, especially those in the hospitality industry. The money will go to the state’s tourism office for marketing and creating a “strategic recovery plan,” the Arizona Commerce Authority and local chambers of commerce.

Chucri said another shutdown order would be “catastrophic” for the restaurant industry. He said member businesses expected case counts to rise as more businesses and schools began opening up. He believes the solution will be through operating responsibly with health and safety mitigation measures in place.

“If we can marginalize [the case count] and keep it there or start to slowly bring it down …. I think we can continue to live our daily lives the best way we can until we get to the other side of this,” he said.