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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Experts See Empty Hotels Now, And A Long Recovery Ahead

The Westin Hotel in uptown Charlotte has been empty in recent weeks.
David Boraks
The Westin Hotel in uptown Charlotte has been empty in recent weeks amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Westin Hotel in uptown Charlotte is usually busy at this time of year with spring travelers and conventions, including those at Charlotte Convention Center across the street. But the coronavirus has changed everything. 

"At the Westin, we've got 700 rooms. We are basically running empty. We are still open and looking for business," said Derek White of Atlanta-based Portman Holdings.

Portman owns the Westin and other hotels around the world. With bookings now near zero, he said the company expects revenues to fall about 60% this year.  

"It's been a very harsh reality right now. And we've been very hard hit across the portfolio," he said. 

White spoke to urban planners and developers during a hospitality industry "gut check" presentation Wednesday organized by the Urban Land Institute of Charlotte. 

Another speaker, consultant Kathleen Rose, said the loss of business also is cutting into local hotel and tourism tax revenues, and costing thousands of employees their jobs. 

"Fifteen percent of the workers employed in the region are in service related industries. So that's really where the impacts are going to be felt," Rose said.  

The panelists were cautiously optimistic that travel and tourism would start to turn around by mid-year. Rose said the industry should plan for the recovery in three waves: mobilizing to help people feel safe and secure, a period of reopening and transition, which could include more local tourism and "staycations," and finally a full recovery.

But White warned that a full rebound may be years away. "Four to five years, potentially, maybe even longer for us to get back to where we were on Feb. 29 of this year," he said. 

White says booking in the last three months of the year are holding up so far, and think bookings will start to pick up again in the third quarter of the year.  

That's when many Charlotte businesses are counting on a surge of visitors for the Republican National Convention in August. Said White: "As far as we've heard, they're still coming."

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.