Original story published on TulsaWorld.com
As it has with so many others, the coronavirus outbreak has left the local hospitality industry with a collective empty feeling.
“It’s all been surreal, said Sangita (Sunny) Patel Chatterjee, CEO of 3S Hotels Group. ‘It’s lonely. A hotel that was buzzing at 90 percent occupancy is at four rooms.”
COVID-19 has yanked the welcome mat from hotels all over Oklahoma and the United States, stressing the bottom lines of businesses that depend on travel for a living.
“In January we boasted that (hoteliers) we were all doing so well with all these initiatives as a city that we were taking, all the acknowledgment we were seeking,” she said. “… Then, all of a sudden, about three weeks ago, one of my managers called and said everybody canceled for the three weekends we were sold out in April — and March.
“It’s taking every bit of our liquidity to keep all our hotels open.”
3S has several hotels in Tulsa and is a partner in the redevelopment of the Boston Building into a Hyatt Place at 400 S. Boston Ave.
Public health safeguards related to COVID-19 have limited or denied access to hotel amenities such as meals, pools and gyms.
“(Tuesday) we had an executive meeting and all the properties that were on that conference call,” Chatterjee said. “They all were just worried about big payments, the water payment, the electric payment. They don’t want to get shut down. They don’t want to get shut down by mortgages.”
Although some of her hotels have dropped to about 10% occupancy, no employees have been laid off.
“We want to be able to hold onto these employees and them not feel displaced,” Chatterjee said. “I think that’s the best thing as a hotel group owner that I can do.
“Hoteliers are so resilient. We will get through this. It’s just painful.”
Pete Patel is president and CEO of Promise Hotels, which owns 12 hotels in Tulsa and eastern Oklahoma, including several in downtown Tulsa.
“The hospitality industry has been dramatically affected,” Patel said. “We all are in a state of shock almost. We’re pretty much three weeks now into occupancies nationally averaging in the 60s (percent) to now about 10%.
“The travel industry has been put on hold — and rightfully so. We need to get through this sickness we have in our country right now. Once it’s over, people need to feel safe and secure about traveling.”
Trickling in to his hotels are mostly traveling medical workers, construction workers and truck drivers, he said.
“Outside of that, any corporate or business or social travel is pretty much nonexistent,” he said.
Michelle Hartman is human resources director for SJS Hospitality, which has a number of hotels in the area, including downtown’s Hotel Indigo.
“We rely on travel, not only tourism travel but also business travel.,” she said. “We do quite a bit of corporate travel accounts. Corporations have told their people to stay home. That’s greatly affecting our occupancy.
“Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen a sharp decline in occupancies across all our portfolio, the five hotels we have here and the other 25 that our other partners are a part of.”
SJS Hospitality has sliced hours but hasn’t let anyone go, she said.
“We’re hoping with the potential small business stimulus packages being considered on Capitol Hill that we will be able to continue to retain our employees, which is our most important priority.”
Gov. Kevin Stitt’s designating hotels as essential businesses has helped, but that information needs to be spread, Hartman said.
“It would be nice if our state could send that as a message because we’re starting to see some cancellations because of the nonclarity from the national perspective that hotels aren’t considered essential in Oklahoma,” she said. “We’d like to get the word out that they are essential and it’s business as usual for hotels that remain open.”