The significance of the hotel and tourism industry to the City of Victoria can’t be understated.
The grand dame, the Fairmont Empress, sits at the entrance to the Inner Harbour, greeting the millions of visitors to the city every year.
But the iconic institution shut its doors earlier today.
Hundreds of workers are now laid off, leaving a small group of employees to maintain emergency services.
Management issued a statement earlier today, saying “… we have made the difficult decision to suspend hotel operations at Fairmont Empress and temporarily close effective Tuesday, March 24, 2020.”
The closure means the hotel’s 500 employees are now out of work.
While the Empress may be the most visible sign of the difficult times, there are many others facing the same situation.
Accent Inns President and CEO Mandy Farmer says bookings fell off at the beginning of March.
“Right now our bookings are completely decimated. There is nothing. So for April, we’ve got nights where we’ve got no guests.”
Farmer said business travel dried up two weeks ago. And with occupancy in the single digits, she has no option but to reduce her 250 employees by 50 to 80 percent.
“I’m very concerned about how my team will make their rent. How they will buy groceries?” Farmer said.
The Hotel Grand Pacific should be bustling with 75 per cent occupancy at this time of year. But it’s closing Thursday after the last guests check out. Its 190 staff will be cut to about twenty. They’ll be taking future reservations, and maintain the site. But General Manager Reid James believes the industry will bounce back.
“There are a lot of hotels that are remaining open. That’s a good thing. This destination will bounce back. This is Victoria. And we’ll all be ready for it,” Reid said.
But the job losses will be significant in an industry with 17,000 direct jobs in this region, contributing more than $600 million annually to the local economy. The BC Hotel Association President, Ingrid Jarrett, said the economic impact is significant. “We’re anticipating within the association, which blankets the province, and represents the hotel industry both provincially and nationally about 40,000 jobs will be laid off,” Jarrett said.
Hotel operators are hoping for more assistance from all levels of government to weather this pandemic.