In his 60 years of life, Duane Parrish said he never thought “he’d see this.”
The state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism director can get his arms around a hurricane, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will require “a lot of patience and perseverance from a lot of people,” particularly in the hospitality and hotel industries.
The hospitality industry employs 10% of the state’s workforce, or about 220,000 people, Parrish said. In April and May, he expects half of the hospitality sector employees will be temporarily out of work. He does not yet know the overall loss of tourism and no one knows how long the coronavirus pandemic will last. The week ending March 21, which included Gov. Henry McMaster shuttering all restaurant dining areas in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, had 31,054 new claims for unemployment benefits — a 1,600% jump from the week before.
Parrish did note that statewide hotel occupancy is down. He and his department get a national report from Smith Travel Research, which they track on a weekly and monthly basis. For the first week of March, statewide occupancy was down about 5.5%, the second week it went down 34.4% and last week it went down 47.7%. He anticipates the current week we are in now to be down somewhere between 65-70%.
“The hotel industry is facing an abrupt and unprecedented drop in hotel demand that is getting more severe by the week,” said Lenza Jolley, South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association communications manager.
The hotel industry supports nearly 8.3 million jobs. “The drastic declines in occupancy rates have the potential to lead to massive job losses for individuals across the industry,” she said. As of March 25, 14,993 direct-hotel related jobs have been lost in South Carolina.
The hospitality and hotel industries were the first affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but Parrish is confident that they will be the first ones to recoup. He cites people being in their homes for an extended period of weeks, gas prices potentially being as low as $1.50 per gallon, people being more comfortable traveling in cars than planes and South Carolina being a drive market state for his prediction.
“I think they’ll drive and they’ll go to all the great destinations in our state,” he said. “I think we’ll bounce back pretty quickly.”
Parrish compared the after-effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the hospitality industry to the after-effects of 9/11, but while 9/11 took a year to recover from, he thinks the coronavirus pandemic should allow the hospitality industry to bounce back within months. The bounce-back would allow hospitality sector employees to be rehired by the year’s end, Parrish said.
In terms of charitable actions made by the hospitality industry, the American Hotel and Lodging Association recently launched Hotels for Hope.
“(Hotel for Hope) is an initiative to boost collaboration between the hotel industry and local, state and federal governments to help employees, communities across the country and the industry during this unprecedented health crisis,” Jolley said.
Parrish knows of other hotels across the state that have cut their rates drastically, given free hotel rooms and offered discounts to people forced out of their homes by a family member being quarantined or have a loved one in a hospital that they want to be close to. The state Department of Health and Environmental Control has contracted with some hotels across the state and they have helped house people.