Bloomington-Normal hotels have rolled out expanded cleaning programs in response to the coronavirus, even as they expect fewer guests through the rest of this year.
Bloomington-Normal hotel rooms were only 23% occupied in May, down from around 57% this time a year ago, said Ray Ceresa, president of the Bloomington-Normal Hotel and Lodging Association and general manager at the DoubleTree in Bloomington.
That’s put downward pressure on average room rates, which fell from $86 to $66 in May, he said. Thousands of leisure and hospitality workers have lost their jobs.
“It’s tough right now,” Ceresa said. “And it’s probably going to be tough the rest of the year and early into 2021. We’re hoping we recover quick in 2021 or even sooner than that. But the situation is very fluid, and for a while there it was day by day. And now it’s week by week. We’re kind of in a waiting game.”
At the DoubleTree, guests are slowly coming back. Its occupancy plunged from around 75% down to just 10% in mid-March, when COVID-19 first emerged. Now the DoubleTree is around 30% occupied. That’s mostly leisure travelers, including a spike just after the $1,200 federal relief checks went out, Ceresa said.
The Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association has shared detailed COVID-19 cleaning and health guidelines with individual operators.
Ceresa’s hotel is running the Hilton CleanStay program. That includes:
- The breakfast room is closed. Guests can get breakfasts delivered to their rooms.
- An inspector gives every room a second look after a housekeeper’s first pass. A seal/sticker is placed on each door, to be broken only by the guest.
- Staffers wear masks. Plexiglass is in place at the front desk.
- The pool is closed every day for deeper cleaning.
- They’ve still got cookies. But they’re passed out with tongs, not by hand.
Those new measures come as hotels are operating with fewer employees. Ceresa said it’s doable for now because of that lower occupancy.
“Luckily, with lower occupancy, you’ve got more time to implement these programs in your guest rooms,” Ceresa said. “If we were at 75% to 85% occupancy, it would be very difficult and take a lot longer to roll out a program like this, because there’s a lot of stuff.”
One challenge has been supply chain delays for products like disinfectants and wipes, he said.
There has been some good news.
Last month, the Illinois Fire Juniors youth soccer organization announced plans to build a 100-acre sports complex in north Normal. The club has purchased farmland near the intersection of Route 66 (Shelbourne Drive) and Veterans Parkway and plans to begin development this fall.
Ceresa said that’s “huge” for local hotels that hope that the complex generates tournaments—and out-of-town visitors.
“It’s going to be a great, great thing for our community. Not just businesses and hotels. Everybody around should be excited about it.”
We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.