Connecticut has known for months that the coronavirus has hit its hospitality industry harder than those in most other states.
Now it’s learned that things are worse than many thought.
According to revised projections from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, Connecticut will have recovered – by the end of the year – just under 72% of the 26,225 direct hospitality jobs lost during the pandemic.
Those 7,400 unfilled jobs are significantly worse than the gap of 5,900 AHLA predicted for Connecticut in May.
“The pandemic has been devastating for the hospitality industry workforce, wiping out 10 years of growth in hotel employment,” the association wrote, adding that hotels and other accommodation are expected to end 2021 down. 500,000 jobs compared to 2019 employment levels.
Direct hotel jobs, such as housekeepers and receptionists, do not include workers in restaurants, retail businesses, tourist attractions, and other small businesses supported by the accommodation industry.
Only four states – Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York – as well as the District of Columbia, are expected to have regained a lower percentage of direct hotel jobs than Connecticut by the end of the year.
“We always face incredible challenges,” said Ginny Kozlowski, executive director of the Connecticut Hotel and Lodging Association.
Perhaps most important, she said, is to regain the full contingent of business travelers who made up 60% of Connecticut’s hotel, motel and guesthouse clientele before the pandemic.
Holidays and other leisure-related travel have recovered well this summer, although there is still work to be done, Kozlowski said. But business travel has lagged behind considerably.
For example, will many companies permanently limit their conventions, retreats and planning meetings?
Will salespeople who normally visit their customers four or five times a year now only visit once and stay in touch the rest of the time via online conferences?
“This is where we’re not sure,” Kozlowski said.
Another unknown urging the industry is the coronavirus itself.
Kozlowski praised Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration for Connecticut’s extensive efforts to promote vaccinations. As of Monday, 71% of residents aged 12 and over were fully immunized.
And she noted that the governor and the legislature have provided support in other ways.
Between the new two-year state budget and federal coronavirus relief funding, Connecticut officials have committed more than $ 60 million in new resources that will help promote tourism and the hospitality industry.
David Lehman, economic development commissioner for Lamont, said part of these resources would also support a new grant program to help the hotel and related businesses. This program will likely be unveiled in early 2022, he said.
And none of that aid includes an additional $ 150 million that the state has deposited directly into the unemployment trust fund. The state has borrowed more than $ 700 million to keep the fund afloat, and debt is expected to approach or exceed $ 1 billion by the end of the year. Businesses are normally assessed to cover these debts, so a payment of $ 150 million is effectively direct tax relief for all businesses.
Eric Gjede, labor, labor and tax specialist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said on Wednesday that any additional deposits the state could make into the unemployment trust would be a boon to all businesses. Gjede added that the business travel situation may not return to pre-pandemic levels this year, which means Connecticut’s hotel sector may remain vulnerable.
“It is very clear that things have not returned to normal, by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.
Legislative Appropriations Committee co-chairs Senator Cathy Osten, D-Sprague and Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, have asked Lehman’s office for more data on the besieged hotel industry.
Osten said she is concerned that some of the jobs, because they are poorly paid, may remain vacant because Connecticut’s battle with the coronavirus is not over.
“Some people have gone into other areas and are not interested in returning to this direct contact job,” Osten said.
The state’s COVID-19 test positivity rate has increased in recent weeks, topping 2.5% on Tuesday.
The Delta variant of the virus, which was originally identified in India, is now probably dominant in the state, according to Nate Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health.
Kozlowski said the industry has not ruled out an appeal later this year or early 2022 to Lamont and the legislature for more help, adding that she believes many state officials are watching to near what’s going on in this sector of the Connecticut economy.
“There is a keen awareness that we have serious problems,” she added.