Montgomery hospitality industry rebounding; hotels struggling to fill jobs

Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 9:40 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the hospitality industry in Montgomery, but officials say things are on the rebound. Hotels in Montgomery are filling up, but now they need the staff to help meet the demand.

The Montgomery Renaissance Hotel & Spa said at the lowest point of the pandemic they were operating at a 4-5% occupancy rate. They are now at a 70% occupancy rate and expect that number to grow over the next four to five months. The only problem is they don’t have enough employees.

“Business is coming back fast and furious,” said Tim Budd, director of human resources for the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel. “We are, like every other business, we need to get people off the bench and get them back in the game.”

Back in the game, because more and more people are traveling again.

“We’re starting to see now, groups are returning, we’re booking groups, and people are ready to travel,” said Anna Buckalew, president and CEO of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.

Buckalew said the hospitality industry in Montgomery is on the rebound.

“We were hovering around the 70% occupancy rate. That’s the occupancy rate amongst our hotels pre-COVID, and right now occupancy is probably down around 48%-50%, so that’s kind of climbing back. At one point we were down almost below 40%,” Buckalew said.

“Montgomery still though consistently has remained above the national average which was slightly below 40%. So it has been tremendously devastating, but we are starting to see a come back,” Buckalew went on to say.

The increase in visitors has also had a positive impact on the city’s lodging tax. Buckalew said the lodging tax trajectory in Montgomery has been increasingly gaining ground.

“Pre-COVID, we were at about the $12 million tax receipts mark for lodgings in a fiscal year for the city of Montgomery. We probably project that for this fiscal year that will be ending in September probably collections will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 9.3 to 9.6 million for the city of Montgomery, and so it’s big drop,” Buckalew said. “It has impacted the city and the county and while they’ve done great job of maintaining revenues in other areas, lodgings tax has been the one area that has hit everyone really hard.”

The uptick in travel is a positive for getting local and state economies back on track, but now hotels are scrambling to meet the demand. Some hotels are hosting job fairs in hopes of filling empty positions. The Renaissance held a job fair on Thursday.

“That’s really what this job fair is about today is just re-staffing the property, almost like when it originally opened,” Budd said.

The hotel is currently looking to fill close to 35 positions. At Thursday’s job fair, only 40 candidates showed up. The hotel said they normally see around 200 people at their job fairs.

The chamber remains optimistic more people will return to work.

“The input that we’re getting from the hotels and the restaurants is they are starting to see those workers come back and we hope within about 30 to 60 days that our workforce will be in a much better position,” Buckalew said.

Gov. Kay Ivey announced that Alabama will end its participation in all federally funded pandemic unemployment compensation programs on June 19, 2021. That includes the $300 weekly payment to recipients of unemployment compensation. Budd and Buckalew said they anticipate the number of people looking for work will increase after that.

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