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Regina's event industry struggling to recover after losing nearly $400M

Tracy Fahlman, President and CEO of the Regina Hotel Association, at the Path co-work space in Regina on November 20, 2019.
Tracy Fahlman, President and CEO of the Regina Hotel Association, at the Path co-work space in Regina on November 20, 2019.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Regina’s tourism and event industry hard and fast, and the way to economic recovery remains murky for a sector that relies heavily on visitors.

Regina’s hotels have been among the hardest hit businesses in the city, and will likely be among the last to recover, said Tracy Fahlman, president and CEO of the Regina Hotel Association.

“The first 75 days in room revenue alone, we lost $18 million, and we’re further projecting over $40 million in lost revenue due to COVID-19-related cancellations,” she said.

Hotels employ more than 1,600 Regina residents, around 1,200 of which remain laid off. Two hotels in the city have indefinitely suspended operations and those that remain open are operating with “skeleton staff,” said Fahlman. Room occupancies are down 78 per cent compared to this time last year.

Fahlman also noted that more than half of the city’s hotels are owned by Saskatchewan residents, and many are in danger of closing as some of their deferred payments come due, even as their revenues remain a fraction of what they were pre-pandemic.

“They are in dire threat of closure,” she said.

Hotels are just one part of Regina’s event, convention and tradeshow (ECT) sector. Other businesses like Regina Exhibition Association Limited, which operates Evraz Place , and Regina International Airport have also been suffering badly from the loss of visitors .

In total, Regina’s ECT sector has lost $395.3 million in economic impact so far, according to Economic Development Regina (EDR). This includes the cancellation of 298 events, conventions or tradeshows and the lost revenue for hotels.

Along with the income drop has come the loss of 5,600 local jobs in the sector.

Kerri Michell, chief brand officer for EDR, is hopeful the ECT industry will recover, but recognizes it will likely be a long road.

“We’ve also seen lots of resiliency and innovation, you know, the Brett Kissel concert, the mini donut days that are happening,” she said.

“I’m confident that once we do open up again, people will continue to come back here.”

The uncertainty of exactly when visitors will return and business can go back to normal, however, remains looming over the industry.

“Those timelines are so unknown,” said Fahlman. “That’s probably the hardest part, is we can’t plan and it’s so hard to forecast what that future looks like.”

Despite this, hotels are already preparing for welcoming visitors in a post-pandemic world. Fahlman said the hotel experience will look different than before.

“From checkin to checkout, you’re going to see strict social distancing. You’ll see new things like plexiglass at the checkin desk. There’ll be limited capacities for elevator rides, hand sanitizer stations,” she said.

Many hotels are also choosing to switch out their traditional continental breakfasts for grab and go meals. Items that are difficult to sanitize — like throw pillows, pens and paper — will be taken out of the rooms. Amenities like shampoo and conditioner will no longer await guests on bathroom counters, but will be delivered to the room door in protective packaging if requested.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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