Published in Economic Development
More than 600 GR hotel layoffs coming as county occupancy rebounds PHOTO COURTESY EXPERIENCE GRAND RAPIDS

More than 600 GR hotel layoffs coming as county occupancy rebounds

BY Thursday, July 23, 2020 03:48pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County’s hotel occupancy has started to rebound since the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, but a major downtown Grand Rapids hotel operator anticipates only being able to call back half of the 1,200 employees it furloughed in April.

The remaining 580 employees will be laid off on July 31 by AHC Hospitality, the Amway Corp. affiliate that manages multiple downtown Grand Rapids hotels. 

The layoffs involve 355 employees at the Amway Grand Plaza, 144 workers at JW Marriott, 50 employees at Courtyard by Marriott, and 31 workers at AC Hotel, according to a notice filed with the state. In April, the company furloughed roughly 1,200 employees but continued providing their medical coverage.

“While we have worked hard to avoid staff reductions, unfortunately it has become unavoidable as we adapt to new business levels and staffing needs created by the virus,” AHC President Richard Winn said in a statement. “We are sorry that we had to take this course of action, but remain hopeful that after these unprecedented times pass, we will be able to provide those employees laid off with the opportunity for gainful employment in the future.”

Businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry have taken a heavy blow from the pandemic and related shutdown mandates intended to slow the spread of the virus. 

Kent County’s hotel occupancy was at its lowest point during April, when levels reached 18 percent — an 85 percent decrease from last year’s 56 percent occupancy rate, as MiBiz previously reported

With businesses gradually reopening, occupancy rates increased to 33 percent during June, according to Experience Grand Rapids, the city’s convention and visitors bureau.

“We’re slightly optimistic that we’ve seen some increases in travelers,” said Janet Korn, vice president of Experience Grand Rapids. “We are seeing slight improvements month over month. April was the worst month because travel was restricted to only essential travel, and occupancy was the lowest that I can ever remember.”

As many as 15 hotels in Kent County temporarily shut down at some point this year related to the pandemic. The Amway Grand Plaza remained open during the pandemic, consolidating operations from AHC’s other three hotels. The JW Marriott has reopened, but the Courtyard and AC Hotel remain closed. 

“It’s a pretty significant decision to close — hotels are usually open 24-7, every day of the year,” Korn said. “A business would try to find a way to scale their expenses and their staffing down before they would close.”

The AHC layoffs involve 38 different positions, including 103 housekeeping workers, 64 dishwashers and 64 valet parking staff.

The downtown Grand Rapids Holiday Inn also recently laid off 18 employees on June 30, citing a “dramatic downturn in business and occupancy caused by the coronavirus natural disaster,” in a letter notifying the state about the layoffs. Employees were told the cuts will be temporary.

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