The devastating impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry as a whole is reflected in data from the data analytics company STR. In April, the company reported a 117% drop in hotel operating profits compared to last year. The same month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics put the hospitality and leisure job losses at 7.7 million.
The pandemic hit Black-owned inns and hotels hard in March and continued to do so through May and June. Black innkeepers not only saw cancellations of all their reservations, but also for room deposits.
With some slowly reopening their doors, technology-savvy innkeepers are keeping patrons informed by posting comprehensive information about COVID-19 procedures on their websites. Cuisine Noir reached out to property owners of Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns, Ye Olde Manor House and several others about the status of their operations and here’s what they had to share.
The picturesque mountain views, clear lakes and nature walks in the Poconos of Pennsylvania appeal to people thrilled to escape the confines of stay-at-home orders. The luxurious rooms at the opulent, Black-owned Mansion at Noble Lane are almost fully booked. That is a comfort to Monique Greenwood and her guests. “We sit on 23 acres of land, so there is plenty of space for social distancing. We have lots of outdoor seating spaces. We’re serving breakfast out on the porch and out on the veranda, and folks are feeling really good about that,” says the CEO of Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns.
Greenwood, who calls herself the chief enjoyment officer, owns four other inns with her husband, Glenn Pogue. The coronavirus pandemic interrupted what they thought would be their best year ever for bookings. The couple owns B&Bs in the Pocono Mountains; Philadelphia, Pa.; Cape May, N.J.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Washington, D.C. “We were in the process of preparing to celebrate our 25th anniversary in business. Everything just came to a complete halt,” Greenwood says. “We are now faced with behaving like a start-up instead of a quarter-of-a-century-year-old business.”
In addition, she shares, “We had already collected a lot of deposits on reservations for March, April, May and June that we then had to refund. So, we had this rush on cash outlay that was very difficult at a time when no new money was coming in,” says Greenwood.
The CEO of Akwaaba had to furlough most of her staff to deal with the financial challenges of shutting down five inns. She also asked guests to accept credit for a future stay and about a quarter of Greenwood’s guests agreed. “It really touched my heart that anybody who could do that did. Others did not accept for very valid reasons. Even though they felt our pain, they had their own.”
The owners of Ye Olde Manor House in Elkhorn, Wis., experienced the same pain of having to turn guests away and refund deposits for stays at the serene bed and breakfast on three landscaped acres. Innkeeper Karen Fulbright-Anderson and her husband, John Anderson, closed around March 10, even before the state-mandated shutdowns. “We shut down a little bit earlier because we were quite concerned about the pandemic numbers. We’re both over 60 and therefore in a higher risk group, so we didn’t want to take any chances,” Fulbright-Anderson says.
The Andersons have no plans to reopen anytime this year. The loss of reservations for summer vacations, weddings and special events cost them thousands of dollars. The cancellation of rooms for a group planning to attend the Democratic convention took $10,000 out of their pockets alone. Fulbright-Anderson feels the situation is too unstable to open for guests without a mandatory state requirement for masks. Many Wisconsin residents and visitors choose not to wear them. “Once we’re in a position where we feel safe enough to reopen, we’ll have a new set of guidelines for what we will expect from our guests, and get people to sign off on that before they come. We’ll also let them know what we will be doing here to keep them safe.”
Her husband agrees. “We’ll see what happens. We just have to hang in there and hope they come up with a vaccine or effective treatment, and that will take care of this virus,” John Anderson says.
The innkeepers would like to have more definitive information about the procedures necessary to protect themselves and their guests. For instance, they want to know whether the ultraviolet light on the HVAC system at Ye Old Manor House will kill the coronavirus. They hope to have answers in time to start accepting reservations for 2021 in the fall or winter of thisyear. People are still calling for accommodations, and the couple is thankful for the support. “We have some regulars. We know they want to come back, and we know there are a lot of people that just want to come here. We’ll hang in there. We’ll make it work,” Anderson says.
The Andersons received about $1,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). It is a paltry amount that might cover the cost of getting help with their gardens and grounds this summer.
The owners of this beautifully restored bed and breakfast expect to continue feeling the pandemic’s economic effects for another year or two. Jeff and Carol Watson have faith in their ability to stay in business. “We are taking one day at a time, and with hopes and prayers, we will survive. Despite all this, we are thankful for our health and the health of our family, friends and guests,” says owner Carol Watson.
The Captain Farris House is located in the resort town of Cape Cod. The pandemic closed businesses and forced the cancellations of weddings, vacations and other travel reservations. The B&B reopened on June 8, after nearly three months of almost no income. The inn made just $200 compared to about $44,000 in bookings for the same period last year. “We applied for the SBA loan and PPP. We don’t have any answers, and we’re not sure how we will get through the year if we can’t regain some of the lost revenue from the summertime,” Watson says.
The phones are ringing again for reservations at Captain Farris House, but not as often as in previous years. The innkeepers are considering other revenue streams, such as selling baked goods to the public. The Watsons hope the additional measures taken to clean, sanitize and safeguard guests and staff will encourage more people to plan a getaway to the B&B. “Rooms are left vacant 24 hours after checkout whenever possible so that we have a chance to air out the room. We strip everything, sanitize all hard and soft surfaces, and then get the room ready for the next guest,” says Watson.
Social distancing is practiced, and guests are asked to wear masks in the common area. The innkeepers hope people who are not ready to travel yet will support them by buying gift certificates for future stays and spreading the word about Captain Farris House on social media.
The coronavirus pandemic closed the doors of the Magnolia House Inn. The innkeepers remained in quarantine for three months. This unique bed and breakfast in Virginia lost 80 percent of its gross revenue to room cancellations and guest refunds.
Thus far, owners Joyce and Lankford Blair have received cancellations through October. They welcomed their first guests back on June 14. Guestrooms are available on a limited basis through the end of 2020. “We will remain in a mode of caution through this year, in hopes that with lower rates of infection and an effective vaccine, we all can relax into a more trusting manner of operations,” the couple says.
The innkeepers at Magnolia House are certified wedding officiants and continued to perform ceremonies during the state-ordered shutdown. “We offered a Curbside Elopement Ceremony and a Virtual/Zoom Ceremony starting March 28, 2020. With the Curbside Ceremony, couples said their vows in their vehicles or under the historic magnolia trees on the front lawn,” says Joyce Blair.
The Blairs performed the Curbside Elopement Ceremony for 62 couples between March 28 and June 13. They plan to slowly reopen the wedding chapel for up to 10 guests who can observe social distancing. Other safety measures are in place to protect overnight guests. “We have thermal thermometers, a pulse oximeter, disinfectant products, gloves and masks for guest use,” says the Blairs.
Masks are required in the common areas of the B&B. As a former operating room nurse, Joyce Blair is taking no chances with the coronavirus. “We have always performed a terminal cleaning of the rooms between guests. We also have invested in an electrostatic sprayer for a virucide/germicide product to enhance our housekeeping efforts to decrease exposure to COVID-19,” she says.
The Magnolia House innkeepers are ready for guests to enjoy an excellent coastal Virginia breakfast during their stay. The Blairs hope people longing for a getaway will check availability online or call if they have any questions about COVID-19 safety procedures implemented at the B&B.
The Morehead Manor Bed & Breakfast usually enjoys its busiest months in April and May. Not this year. The cancellation of college graduations, festivals and alumni events in the Durham area meant the owners had to refund more than $2,000 in room deposits. North Carolina’s stay-at-home orders were eased at the end of May, but reservations are still being affected. “We had eight-room nights canceled this week due to an upward tick in COVID-19 cases. All events have been canceled through July due to limitations on gatherings,” say owners Daniel and Monica Edwards.
Uncertain travel restrictions for international guests resulted in room cancellations through August. The couple used their stimulus check and personal funds to pay obligations that could not be deferred. The Edwards have also applied for government assistance and grants. They are making guests aware of the new COVID-19 protocols now in place at the B&B. However, restrictions on large gatherings mean they cannot book weddings, corporate meetings or other special events at this time.
That is another reason they are thankful for the monetary support offered by some guests. “I did have some guests who canceled send the balance of their stay with a note to show their support. They appreciated and understood that this was very impactful and wanted to help us so that we could be here next year,” Monica Edwards says.
Deidre Mathis opened Wanderlust Houston almost two years ago as a hostel catering to Millennial travelers seeking a great place to stay and enjoy the city. Her company, renamed Wanderstay Hotels, saw occupancy plummet from 70 percent to 10 percent when the pandemic struck. “We’ve seen cancellations for bookings as far out as November and December 2020. In one week, we received over 150 cancellations,” says Mathis.
The hostel owner got creative to help her business survive. The most important factor was having a cash reserve of six months to cover expenses. “This helped us out as well as applying for local grants and pivoting,” says Mathis. “We normally accommodate travelers, but lately, we’ve accommodated nurses, hospital mechanics and international students who were essentially stranded. This has allowed our company to still earn revenue.”
Wanderstay Hotels offers shared and private rooms for guests along with co-working spaces for the traveling professional. The hostel was already earning high praise for the cleanliness of the accommodations before adding new sanitizing procedures. The COVID-19 protocols now in place are designed to keep guests and employees safe. “We have hand sanitizer available in every room (including lobby and kitchen). We have face masks available for guests and ask that they wear them in common spaces,” Mathis says.
The hostel is operating at 50 percent capacity for now. The visitors and staff are practicing social distancing as well. “We also have a scanner thermometer that we use to take our guests’ temperatures to ensure they don’t have a fever,” Mathis adds.
As with the proprietors of other Black-owned inns and hotels, Mathis hopes a new vaccine will become available to help the world manage the coronavirus. She encourages people who want to support her and other owners to buy gift certificates for themselves or others. They can also share information on social media about Black-owned places travelers can visit. “I am hoping people were so tired of being cooped up that they travel more than ever next year and years to follow.”
Finding Some Silver Linings
Akwaaba’s CEO discovered a few cost-saving measures during the months that her inns were closed. Greenwood will no longer spend money on hosting and staffing afternoon snack buffets that guests were often too busy to attend. “As a replacement, I’m now doing welcome baskets in the rooms stocked with all kinds of goodies, whether it be nuts, chips, gourmet chocolates and beverages,” Greenwood says. “All of this is waiting for them upon their arrival in the room. They can enjoy that whenever they want to during the day or take it home with them when they leave.”
There are some other silver linings in the upheaval caused by the pandemic. The innkeepers at Ye Olde Manor House are spending time sprucing up rooms, tending their garden and enjoying life. “It’s kind of nice, in a way, to have this time where you can sort of reflect and do things that you are normally rushing through. We’re always on a schedule and always rushing to get things done,” says Fulbright-Anderson.
Both Greenwood and the Andersons are encouraged by the increased awareness of and support for Black-owned businesses sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement. They hope more people will purchase gift certificates and spread the word about their inns. Akwaaba’s followers on social media increased from 9,000 to more than 12,000 in a few months. Greenwood is grateful for that and the opportunity to attract more visitors with a Stay Safe, Stay Small campaign. “We’re a small property, so the ability to social distance is greater. There is one person here cleaning the whole house. You know who she is. She’s been on our staff for ten years. There is security in that.”
For room availability and COVID-19 practices, be sure to check each property’s website and also follow them on social media.