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Published in Economic Development

Hospitality group seeks state policy support ahead of fall, winter uncertainty

BY Tuesday, September 15, 2020 11:16am

The trade group for Michigan’s hospitality industry has launched a new campaign seeking state support to further reopen ahead of what’s expected to be a challenging fall and winter after the tourism season ends.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association (MRLA) announced its “Don’t Leave Michigan’s Hospitality Industry Out in the Cold” campaign on Monday. It includes proposals to allow banquets and meetings under the same 50-percent occupancy limit as restaurants, allow restaurants to winterize outdoor patios and extend temporary alcohol service permits and subsidize education and training for service industry workers.

MRLA President and CEO Justin Winslow COURTESY PHOTO

While the summer tourism season helped bolster restaurants and hotels during widespread lockdowns and restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, rougher times are expected as temperatures drop. MRLA cited survey data showing 23 percent of Michigan restaurant operators say they’re “unlikely” to still be in business in six months, while nearly two-thirds of hotels remain below 50-percent occupancy.

“The hospitality industry in Michigan finds itself in a precarious position this fall as dropping temperatures and mandatory capacity restrictions indoors threaten its very existence,” MRLA President and CEO Justin Winslow said in a statement.

The hospitality industry isn’t alone in facing uncertainty heading into the fall. Public health experts remain concerned about a potential second wave of the virus this fall coinciding with flu season. Meanwhile, federal lawmakers have failed to reach an agreement over additional stimulus relief, while the November presidential and down-ticket elections could signal a major course-shift for the U.S. in early 2021.

Peter Beukema, CEO of Hudsonville-based Suburban Inns, cited each of these uncertainties — along with dwindling numbers of tourists — as cause for concern in the coming months. 

“Right now with the political uncertainty that’s normal in an election year but also with the virus, how we adapt to this is being part of the new normal,” he said. “We’ll figure that out over the next couple of months.”

The loss of meetings, events and corporate travel was a “massive loss” for the hospitality industry broadly, Beukema said. Suburban Inns — which peaked at roughly 750 employees at eight hotels across Michigan — is currently at about 400 employees. Employment at the company reached as low as 130 people.

“We’re really hoping the governor will provide us some guidance in the near future for how we can re-engage meetings and events,” he said. “Without a path or timeline for reopening, there is no pipeline.”

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