The COVID-19 toll on local businesses – and the hospitality industry in particular – continues to mount, as a precipitous decline in business travelers and canceled events are hitting the hotel industry hard.
Corporate events, weddings, and special family occasions planned for this spring are now on hold.
The venerable epicenter of Wilmington weddings, the Hotel du Pont, has canceled all events – weddings, parties, meetings – through the end of April.
As with other hospitality businesses, most hotel employees who work in sales – handling business travel, tourism, weddings, sports and military at the hotel – have been furloughed “until the business is back,” according to one of the employees. Hourly employees and banquet managers were also let go.
The kitchen staff took a hit as well, with the executive chef and the pastry chef put on furlough. Governor Carney ordered dine-in services in restaurants halted as of Monday, March 16, so the Brandywine Room was closed. Since then, the hotel kitchen has only been doing room service.
And that probably is a heavy workload, as overall room bookings are down everywhere. “No one’s going to hotels right now,” said one impacted industry employee.
The bleak news is the same down I-95, where the Christiana Hilton’s overnight business has been decimated.
“It (the coronavirus) knows no boundaries as far as cancellations are concerned. It’s come to a screeching halt for sure for this industry,” said General Manager Brad Wenger. “It’s wiped out everything from a meetings and events standpoint. And it’s taken the vast majority of the overnight room business out of the equation as well,” he said.
Before the coronavirus crisis, the Hilton Wilmington/Christiana had an active mid-week business with visitors to local banks, chemical companies, the hospital and the STAR campus. The busy weekend youth athletics and wedding business have also dried up in just a matter of days.
Wegner says the Hilton Wilmington/Christiana usually hosts 80 weddings a year.
“There are 150 hourly employees and another 22 managers, and about 90 percent of those individuals have been laid off. They’re gone,” says Wenger. You know, it’s a result of the fact that our businesses just essentially completely evaporated.”
Wedding planner Samantha Diedrick Harris of Secretariat, an event-planning business that has been a staple of Wilmington social life since 1948, the pandemic “affects close to 20 events for us.” Harris has been scrambling to reschedule spring weddings for the summer and fall. She said all corporate and non-profit events scheduled for April and May have been postponed.
Other vendors in the local wedding industry have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic as well. Kerry Welsh, owner of the Blo Blow Dry Bar in Greenville, said they usually have 100 clients on a weekend; last weekend they had just 15.
Secretariat’s Harris summed up what so many in the hospitality business are feeling. “This is a game-changer for our industry. Many of us are small or home-based. I am terrified for my vendors, not to mention sales staff at locations, caterers, et cetera,” said Harris.
The restaurant business in Delaware has been devastated by COVID-19, with hundreds of employees being laid off. Yesterday Carney eased restrictions on the sale of alcohol, allowing restaurants to now sell booze to go and for delivery as part of food orders. (The alcohol purchase is capped at 40% of the total bill.)
Local hotels are now stuck doing the best they can to work with clients to reschedule events to the fall. And while many of the coveted Saturday nights are already booked with social occasions, customers are being offered options for Friday nights.
Altogether, it is an uncertain, anxiety-inducing situation.
Unfortunately, that’s a scenario that will, unfortunately, play out across the state and country, impacting untold scores of workers and people planning important events.