Many hotels could remain closed for good, Ottawa hotelier says

One Ottawa hotelier says he fears that many hotels could remain closed for good if the federal government doesn't step in with targeted financial support for the industry.

Half of all hotels in the Ottawa-Gatineau region are closed, thousands out of work

The hotel industry is calling for more support from the federal government to help it weather the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jérémie Bergeron/Radio-Canada)

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought tourism to a halt in Canada — guest rooms are empty and thousands of employees are out of work. 

One Ottawa hotelier says the situation is so bad he fears many hotels will remain closed for good if the federal government doesn't step in with targeted financial support for the industry.

"They will have absolutely no reason to reopen because financially they won't be able to," said Denis Gilles, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites in downtown Ottawa.

"It will never be back to the way it was," said Gilles, who also sits on the board of directors of the Ottawa-Gatineau Hotel Association.

The Hilton Garden Inn is still open, but has seen a huge drop in business since mid-March, Gilles said.

Denis Gilles fears that it will take years for the tourism industry to bounce back to its pre-crisis levels. (Radio-Canada)

The decline coincided with travel restrictions and physical distancing measures implemented by the federal and provincial governments to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

"We were at 85 per cent [occupancy] in March … [Now] we have an average of 30 to 40 rooms on any given day, which means 20 to 25 per cent occupancy on a 346-room hotel," said Gilles.

50 hotels closed in Ottawa-Gatineau

The Hilton Garden Inn is not the only hotel suffering during the pandemic.

Fifty hotels in the Ottawa-Gatineau region are closed which works out to half of the area's hotels, according to data from the Hotel Association of Canada. On top of that, around 5,000 hotel employees are out of work. 

Nationally, more than 4,000 hotels are closed and 250,000 workers are affected.

Jessica Lefebvre, a room attendant at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Ottawa, says she fears losing her job. (Jérémie Bergeron/Radio-Canada)

Jessica Lefebvre, who still has a job at the Hilton Garden Inn, considers herself one of the lucky ones. While she's had her hours reduced, Lefebvre continues to work part time cleaning rooms and attending to guests.

"Since the pandemic, it's a complete change," said Lefebvre. "The hotel, it's very quiet ... So we do our best to try to stay positive and uplifting for the guests." 

Despite the fact that she continues to work, Lefebvre continues to worry about her job security. 

"Right now, I'm just taking it day by day and I'm trying not to think too far in the future," she said.

Support measures not enough, hotel manager says

The federal government has announced a series of measures meant to support businesses through the economic downturn, including a 75 per cent wage subsidy, easy access to credit and tax payment deferrals.

Gilles said the support programs announced so far aren't enough for most hotels to meet their financial obligations — from utility bills to taxes to mortgage payments. He said the government should tailor its assistance to the unique needs of the tourism industry. 

"We would like for the government, for [Finance Minister Bill] Morneau and his team, to look at the hotel industry a bit separate from from the rest of the manufacturing, transports, groceries," said Gilles. "We do need a different type of help." 

Gilles fears that it will take years for the tourism industry to bounce back to its pre-crisis levels.

In an emailed statement, Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly said the federal government recognizes the economic impact on the hotel industry and said it would support businesses both during and after the crisis.

"We are on the ground every day, listening to the sector, taking the pulse of the situation, identifying needs and adapting measures in real time," the statement said.

The statement encouraged businesses impacted by the economic downturn to contact their regional development agency, including the Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions (CED) or FedDev Ontario, for help determining what kind of support they may be eligible for.

With files from Radio-Canada's Jérémie Bergeron

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