Hotels normally thriving by means of the tourist industry in Boston now face harsh difficulties and are changing their policies in the wake of sharp declines in business due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker issued updated guidelines for Boston businesses on Tuesday that limit hotels to housing health care and emergency workers, displaced residents and quarantined people.
The order affects hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts, inns, resorts and short-term rentals such as Airbnbs.
As stay-at-home orders remain in effect across the country, sporting events and concerts are cancelled and tourism grinds to a halt. These changes are taking a toll on the hospitality industry.
Several hotels in the Fenway area have temporarily suspended business altogether due to a lack of customers booking rooms. The Hotel Commonwealth and the Hotel Buckminster, both in Kenmore Square, have suspended operations and canceled upcoming bookings.
Hotel Buckminster wrote in an email it is temporarily closed until further notice, and has informed guests with upcoming reservations via email that it does not currently have plans to reopen in the future.
Hotel Commonwealth also closed temporarily as of March 29, according to its website. Adam Sperling, the hotel’s general manager, said keeping operations running was no longer an option.
“It became obvious in the days leading up to the closing that it just wasn’t viable,” Sperling said. “It’s a difficult time for everybody.”
Sperling said the hotel hopes to reopen for reservations on May 2, but that that date may change.
“Obviously that will be dependent on the governor’s recommendations from a health and safety perspective,” Sperling said.
Several other hotels have remained open, but are continually reassessing their prospects.
Sharad Chand, manager of the Residence Inn by Marriott in Back Bay, said closing is a cumulative decision that relies on looking at the situation each day.
“It’s a day-to-day thing, and depends how business is going,” Chand said. “We want to stay open for anyone who needs accomodation. Today we can confidently say we are open, but it might be different tomorrow.”
The Marriott, as an extended-stay hotel, is different from the Buckminster and Commonwealth in that all of its rooms are suites. It’s also closer to medical facilities: Boston Children’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Joslin Diabetes Center are all nearby.
Chand said several floors have been shut down altogether, and on average 30 to 40 rooms are occupied per day, but that that might change. The hotel has also closed amenities for guests, like the pool and terrace.
“It’s a very tough time for the hotel and hospitality business,” Chand said. “Everyone is going to take a hit.”
The loss of customers from a delayed Boston Red Sox season and many cancelled concerts have presented a severe threat, especially in a city well-known for tourism.
Other hotels in the Fenway area have also remained open for medical personnel, but with significantly changed policies.
At the Verb Hotel on Boylston Street, only guests, associates and essential vendors are allowed into the building. Rooms are left untouched for 48 hours after guests leave before being cleaned by housekeepers, front desk personnel no longer touch guests’ credit cards or IDs and floors are deep-cleaned on a rotating basis.
General Manager Paul Leader wrote in an email the hotel will continue to adjust its plans as needed.
“The future is very unclear for our industry,” Leader wrote. “However, we feel very confident that the Verb will bounce back quickly in our vibrant market.”
Leader wrote that the Verb also began offering a discounted “Healthcare Hero Rate” for local health workers employed at the hospitals in Longwood.
William Vasbinder, program director of management at Fisher College, said perishability is one of the factors that makes a break in business like this so devastating to the hospitality industry.
“In a manufacturing environment, if you don’t sell it today you can sell it tomorrow,” Vasbinder said. “In hospitality, a day is the unit, and if it doesn’t get sold today, it’s not going to get sold, it’s revenue gone. And so every day that rooms are not sold at the rate that they should be, they’re taking hits.”
Vasbinder predicted that many of the hotels closing right now will return, but not without scars.
“As long as it doesn’t impact them so much, the majority of them will be back, but they’re going to be constrained,” Vasbinder said. “They’re going to have an ugly year, almost certainly.”
However, he said that a longer quarantine would likely have a larger financial impact on the industry.
“We’re probably already even starting to see it, but marginal players will begin to fail,” Vasbinder said. “Those businesses that are just making it probably won’t be able to get around this.”