New Albany hotels: Stays down during pandemic, but trending up

SARAH SOLE
ssole@thisweeknews.com
Courtyard by Marriott Columbus New Albany general manager Kelley Foster answers a phone Sept. 10. Managers of area hotels said the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll, but business is trending upward.

New Albany's hotels continue to feel the effect of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Managers at two hotels say business has been increasing recently, but levels are still lower than the same time period in 2019.

A full recovery for hotels nationwide is not anticipated until 2023, according to businesstraveller.com. Still, the hospitality industry downturn thus far has had a small effect on New Albany's bed-tax revenue, according to city spokesman Scott McAfee.

New Albany's bed-tax rate is 6%, said McAfee.

Last year, the city collected $586,464 in bed-tax revenue. Of that, 25% ($146,616) went to the New Albany Chamber of Commerce, and the remainder ($439,848) went to the city's general fund.

The city often uses a portion of the bed-tax revenue that goes to the general fund to award grants for local organizations and events, such as the New Albany Symphony Orchestra and Founders Day.

This year, the city is projecting to receive $220,000 in bed-tax revenue for the city's general fund and roughly $75,000 for the chamber, McAfee said.

Still, McAfee said, the decrease in revenue this year will be offset because fewer grants were awarded after some organizations canceled events.

The Founders Day organization, for example, returned its grant to the city, and the New Albany Community Events Board did not hold its Spring Egg Hunt or Oktoberfest. Independence Day activities were also scaled back.

The city probably saved between $75,000 and $100,000 because of the canceled events, McAfee said, meaning the loss in bed-tax revenue for the year is likely closer to $100,000, he said.

"Long term, it really depends on how long it takes for our lives to be somewhat normal again with COVID-19," McAfee said.

"New Albany will add a fourth hotel soon, so the potential is there for revenues to increase long term."

That hotel, a Holiday Inn Express & Suites, is planned for the northwest corner of state Route 161 and Beech Road. In the meantime, the city's existing hotels are adjusting.

Robert Taylor, general manager of Home2Suites by Hilton New Albany Columbus, 5095 Forest Drive, said his hotel has been affected in waves.

Business slowed considerably through April and May, but in June, there was a significant amount of pickup. July and August business decreased a bit because of the summer surge in COVID-19 cases, he said.

Still, Taylor said, the hotel business has remained fairly strong because of construction projects in the area. Weekday business from construction and business travel has sustained the hotel, he said.

Leisure travel, however, has been "very severely affected," he said.

As an extended-stay hotel, the business also had guests who needed to find somewhere to stay because of relocating plans that were affected by the pandemic, he said.

Through the summer, the hotel has averaged about 50% occupancy, Taylor said. Last year, the occupancy rate was about 80%, he said.

Kelley Foster, general manager with Courtyard by Marriott Columbus New Albany at 5211 Forest Drive, said her hotel also experienced a decrease in business in spring.

"March and April were rough, but as each month passes, we continue to see more and more travelers," Foster said. "That said, the volume is nowhere near where it should be."

Foster said occupancy is 20% to 40% lower than last year. Still, occupancy is growing from month to month, albeit slowly.

Monthly bed-tax revenues also are evidence that hotel business is slowly growing.

Bed-tax revenues were $11,000 in June, $26,000 in July and $28,000 in August, McAfee said.

"We're seeing an upward trend, which is good," he said.

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