Coronavirus: Saskatchewan hotel industry devastated by COVID-19 pandemic

The president and CEO of the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association (SHHA) says layoffs are coming amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jim Bence said he’s basically witnessed the evaporation of his industry.

“Globally, nationally and provincially, it’s absolute devastation,” Bence said.

“It has just devastated those of us in the visitor economy. So that’s hotels, restaurants, convention centres, casinos, all of us where we’re really suffering.”

As of Tuesday, he said all hotels in Saskatchewan are open but many are operating with just a skeleton crew irrespective of the number of customers.

“There is a whole bunch of operators that are in the single digits for occupancy. So nightly, like below 10, like in the twos, threes and fours,” Bence said.

“And when you look at a full-service operation, when you turn the lights on or leave the lights on 24 hours, those expenses are just horrible… I think there are some now that are looking at shutting their doors either temporarily or permanently.”

Bence said while all events and group business for corporate conferences and meetings has completely dried up, in Saskatchewan, only one customer base still remains — short bookings for domestic travellers.

“We’re still seeing some domestic travel. It hasn’t completely disappeared. It’s certainly taken a big hit. But that’s really about the only business that we’re seeing,” Bence said.

With business almost at a standstill, Bence said layoffs are coming in the province’s hotel industry.

“This is where it’s going to impact the worker big time,” Bence said.

“How do you actually pay those bills that are coming in every single day? You’ve got no way. You got no revenue coming in. So even companies that have deep pockets, this is going to be three months in which and in Saskatchewan, unfortunately, I think it’s just going to be too much.”

Optimistically, Bence said Saskatchewan’s hotel industry is well-positioned to rebound.

“We’re a lot more nimble because of social distancing that we already have in the province. We’ve got less people. That will allow us to react quicker as things get better.”

“I think how we position ourselves as a province for that group traveller. Like when they get approval from their head offices, that they’re allowed to have meetings again and they’ll have to wait six months to get into Toronto, well, guess what, ‘you can come next month to Saskatchewan.’ I don’t mean next month now, but…”

SHHA confirmed Tuesday there hasn’t been any COVID-19 cases with hotel employees or guests in the province.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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