It may take up to three years for Valley hotels to fill rooms like they did before the COVID-19 pandemic, local hospitality managers said.

While local hotels have been filling some rooms with construction workers and health care employees who are working in the area temporarily, tourists are only starting to trickle back. Business travelers, not so much.

"It's going to take a while for the hotel industry to get back on its feet," said Andrew Miller, executive director of the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau, citing industry officials. "Maybe 2022, 2023."

Andrew Miller, of the visitors bureau, said new hotels always do well early on, but then that levels off for everyone because they are sharing demand.

"It's better they hadn't opened yet than if they just opened and (COVID) just hit," he said, referring to two Fairfield Inn & Suites under construction in the area.

The reason those companies are spending millions of dollars to build hotels here is because their research "many years out" showed a market here. Of course, those corporate researchers had no way of predicting a pandemic. 

As for those hotels open for business now, Miller said the second-quarter months of April, May and June were not as dire as first predicted. 

The same was true in Montour County where the Montour Area Recreation Commission (MARC) received $16,053 in second quarter hotel tax revenues, which exceeded Director Bob Stoudt's projections in May but are still short of the original estimates.

Stoudt said after consulting with the Columbia Montour Visitors Bureau and other sources, he is projecting a total 2020 Montour County hotel tax income for MARC of $57,500, revised from his May projection of $37,500. Pre-COVID, MARC budgeted $100,000 in hotel tax revenue for 2020.

Miller said rural hotels are doing better than those in cities.

"Nobody is going to conventions," he said.

He didn't have data for July, August and September numbers because he won't see those until December, he said. 

Occupancy down 61 percent

"Travel restrictions and major event cancellations have negatively impacted our region and the tourism industry," said Amanda Woolsey, area director of sales for Canon Hospitality Management, which owns hotels in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, including the Holiday Inn Express Lewisburg/New Columbia. "We anticipate it will take two to three years to rebound from the effects of the pandemic."

She said there has been little leisure travel over the summer travel season, which typically is busy.

"Many of our national corporate accounts do not anticipate resuming travel for the remainder of the year," Woolsey said.

She said occupancy was down approximately 61 percent in the second quarter, compared to the same period last year.

"We saw an increase in July, but our occupancy was still down nearly 30 percent," she said.

"With the pandemic still being so fluid, the new normal seems to have a very short booking window, making it difficult to foresee where we are headed in the coming months as we approach the winter offseason," Woolsey said.

Sandeep Thakrar, president Neema Hospitality, of Mechanicsburg, owner of three Snyder County hotels, also said business is only slowly coming back.

"Some people are starting to travel," he said. "They're frustrated and tired of staying at home."

His hotels — Holiday Inn Express and Quality Inn near Selinsgrove and the EconoLodge in Shamokin Dam — also are accommodating construction workers, power plant workers and essential hospital personnel, he said.

"What we're not seeing yet is a lot of the corporate, government and groups, such as weddings," Thakrar said.

Those latter groups are about half of the company's business. 

"Hotel studies are saying it's going to take until 2023 (to come back)," he said. "Our busy time is May through October. After October things slow down. I'm very nervous about this fall and winter."

Thakrar said the usual summer occupancy rate is an average of 80 percent. This summer, the average might have been 40 percent to 50 percent. Neema closed the Quality Inn for six weeks earlier this year because it's across the parking lot from the Holiday Inn Express and two hotels were not needed.

'A little bit scary'

Jennifer Vargo, general manager of the Best Western Plus Country Cupboard Inn and Country Inn and Suites, the two hotels in the Country Cupboard complex north of Lewisburg, said the hotels are seeing more business during the week than on weekends.

"We certainly hope it is coming back soon," Vargo said. "There used to be more of a weekend (clientele). The Best Western and Country Inn and Suites are now seeing more business weekdays than we ever have before.

She, too, said business was more from contractors and construction workers, utility workers and long-term nurses helping at some of the nursing homes.

"There are people traveling from point A to point B, not necessarily to here in Lewisburg," Vargo said. "There are no events going on, no groups, no tours, no tour groups coming in with no events." 

"When you look ahead, it's a little bit scary," she said. "There is nothing on the books, but people are making reservations a day or two ahead of time, five to 10 people walking in without reservations."

Because of COVID, all of the hotel chains implemented increased cleaning/sanitizing measures, the hotel representatives said.

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