Local hotels bounce back from COVID lows | News, Sports, Jobs
WHEELING – As summer hits its peak of vacation and celebrations this weekend, an interesting thing is happening at hotels in Ohio County. The rooms are full. Much sooner than expected, even the rosiest of post-COVID projections.
Why is the Wheeling region recovering so quickly?
Is it over a year of pent-up cabin fever? Is this a resurgence of events, including a surprisingly comprehensive roster of tournaments at the new Highlands Sports Complex? Is long-term promotion paying off – again?
A trio of experts in tourism, hospitality and facility rental shared their observations and enjoyment with the development.
ROOM WITH A VIEW
“We are ahead of what we were at the same time in 2019” said Herb Faulkenberry, vice president of sales and marketing for Oglebay Resort and Conference Center. “I’m the guy doing the screenings and I didn’t screen this.”
The resort – which has taken the sanitary precautions harshly to keep personal accommodation open even when the pandemic has reduced bookings to a trickle – was prepared to squat a bit longer.
“We honestly thought we weren’t going to get back to 2019 income levels until the end of 2022,” Faulkenberry said.
But, the numbers are clear. And, the fact that Oglebay’s 2019-2020 fiscal year had just ended when the 2020 COVID lockdown made 2021 numbers an unusually straightforward comparison.
“We use the lodge as a barometer because that’s what drives the use of all other amenities,” he explained what is being watched.
At this point in the exercise, which began on April 1, he said bookings are actually so high that they make up for a slower resurrection among traffic from conferences, golf groups and other events.
“I think pent-up demand has a lot to do with it”, Faulkenberry speculated. The majority of Oglebay’s individual clients have historically come from Pittsburgh, Columbus and Cleveland. He believes a persistent reluctance to fly could amplify this regional traffic.
Faulkenberry noted that revenue lost in 2020 will likely never be fully recovered, but said bookings also look promising for the months to come.
“By the end of our fiscal year, I think we will have reached or exceeded 2019 revenues” he said.
OGLEBAY NOT ALONE
Frank O’Brien, executive director of the Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the good news was not exclusive to Oglebay.
Independent reports collected monthly for the hospitality industry show that hotel rooms in Ohio County are booking well. Occupancy rates, on the whole, are comparable to the same period for 2019, he said.
“I have no other point of reference” he added in terms of not having comparable data for restaurants or small businesses.
He believes part of the hospitality rebound is the generally robust tourism that the region enjoys – which he says is a function of marketing.
The office – funded by hotel taxes – advertises heavily to encourage visitors to come here. It also directly supports venues like the Capitol Theater on the larger end and various community concerts on the smaller end, so there is something worth advertising.
Starting this summer, the office is expected to tap into a new pocket of this funding. The state began requiring Airbnb to collect hotel taxes on behalf of its community hosts in June.
It is unclear how much this law change will bring to supplement about $ 1.2 million in annual funding for the office, he added. But it will probably be remarkable. According to Airbnb, hosts in West Virginia made $ 10 million from some 90,000 guests in 2018.
“Tourism is an important component of Wheeling”, O’Brien said to celebrate overnight visitors no matter where they stay. “We welcome everyone (individual guests) to the tourism family.
Another factor O’Brien cites as the reason for a rapid recovery in hospitality is the fall 2020 opening of the Highlands Sports Complex in Triadelphia. The office was one of those county entities to fund the development of the facility.
While the timing was tough – the resort opened just as regional COVID cases rose – O’Brien said early figures suggest this single tourist draw could make up for the loss of temporary oil and gas workers which boosted the hotel industry from 2014 to 2017.
PLAY AND STAY
Jason Troop, director of business development at Highlands Sports Complex, has the exact numbers to back up this projection.
“This place was phenomenal – it blew up this area better than we thought”, said Troop, who moved his family from Missouri to help SFM from Clearwater, Fla., manage the Ohio County-backed complex. SFM operates 20 similar facilities in the United States
Since early March – when the weekend tournaments really began – he said about 11,000 young athletes from traveling sports teams have competed in basketball, volleyball, wrestling, cheering, dancing and shooting. arch at the Triadelphia site.
Including only those who booked accommodation through the resort, this resulted in 974 hotel nights booked, Troop said. As some tournament directors have booked hotels for all of their listings on their own, he said the actual number was several hundred more rooms higher.
Adding in restaurant and store projections, Troop estimates the resort’s economic impact to be $ 22.5 million from March through June alone.
“Sports tournaments have already (have) become a huge industry, a multi-billion dollar industry across the country,” he said he expects the trend in bookings to continue. “There are 20 million people within a 200 mile radius of Wheeling and a lot of them play sports.”
Realizing that COVID was going to lift quickly, Troop said he started sending emails to area restaurants at the end of winter, warning them that weekend customer increases would be coming.
“That first week, they didn’t have enough staff, they didn’t have enough food,” he said restaurants. “They just weren’t ready.”
Troop and O’Brien from the office noted that the nationwide worker shortage is not helping the rebound. The resort itself is understaffed, Troop said. O’Brien said hotels and restaurants in the county are also struggling to find enough workers.