LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — COVID-19 has affected every sector across the globe, and the hotel industry is among the hardest hit. Some experts predict that the recovery to pre-COVID could take until 2023 and here in Arkansas the impact is having a ripple effect.
The hotel industry across the country is feeling the pinch from there being a lot less travel, whether it be personal or business. The River Market District was set for a record Market this year and it’s not just the hotels feeling empty.
A recent study by the American Hotel and Lodging Association says two-thirds of hotels across the country are below half capacity and many urban area hotels are seeing capacity down to 38%.
“It’s been devastating absolute devastating,” said the GM of the Little Rock Marriott David Lang.
Lang says Arkansas has not been immune to that trend.
“These are sectors of the hospitality industry that’s been hit harder in the convention and tourism side of the hotel industry so it’s been devastating absolutely devastating,” said Lang.
He says his property has lost around $20 million this year because of the jam-packed convention schedule suddenly coming up empty. He has also had to furlough around 250 employees.
By losing the Robust Calendar of the convention center he says the industry has lost the main component.
“Business travel is really the key until the business traveler gets back on airplanes the whole hospitality industry, the hotel industry is going to struggle,” said Lang.
And the effects are felt even beyond his lobby.
“The River Market thrives on tourism and for the most part, that tourism has dried up,” said Lang.
David Lister is the owner of Kilwin’s Ice Cream in the River Market and business was sweet.
“We went from 2 to 3,000 a day.” Then it took a drastic dip, “to 2 to 300 a day,” said Lister.
He also had to cut back on staff. He had up to six people working daily.
“We went straight down to one person during the day and one person in the evening,” said Lister.
Lister says he fully understand now how dependent the River Market is on the hotels being full.
“When the convention center is booked and they’ve got events on it then everybody benefits,” said Lister.
And until things return back to life at the hotels in the River Market, he’s just hoping to scrape by.
“And we just got our fingers crossed this vaccine hurries up and we can get this year out of the way and bring on 2021,” said Lister.
All parts of the River Market are hoping to see a big boost soon as the Miss High School America will be the first big event in Little Rock since the onset of the pandemic. It will be a week-long event running from September 4 through the 12.