As managing director of the Marriott Pere Marquette Hotel, Jeff McLinden thought more activity would have returned to the Peoria hotel scene by now.
“Some people thought we’d see an upturn by the third quarter of the year,” he said.
Instead, the coronavirus continues to chill the hospitality scene both in central Illinois and across the nation.
“For the year to date, we have area hotels operating at 32.5 percent occupancy--down 41.7 percent from last year,” said J.D. Dalfonso, executive director of the Peoria Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we did see closer to an 80 percent drop in occupancy, but, collectively, the region isn't seeing that at the moment,” he said.
McLinden has had to adapt to a whole new system since the virus took hold in March.
Because of the reduction in the number of guests, the adjoining Courtyard by Marriott is not presently being used. “The Courtyard’s reservation system is on, but guests are staying at the Pere,” said McLinden.
Last year, the two hotels, Pere and Courtyard, were supported by some 170 employees, added McLinden, noting that the present staff numbers 39, most of whom are part-time.
The hotel director is wearing some new hats during the pandemic. “I just finished preparing breakfasts in a bag for the National Guard people staying with us. This afternoon, I’ll spend four hours in the laundry,” McLinden said in an interview last week.
Table 19, the hotel’s dining room, remains closed, he said. “Most of your dining revenue is generated by in-house guests. With so few people staying here, it doesn’t make sense to open the restaurant,” said McLinden.
Instead, hotel staff spends more time sanitizing rooms and keeping the facility clean, he said.
Seeing Peoria’s largest hotel complex (the Pere and Courtyard have 364 rooms while Four Points by Sheraton, the other large hotel in downtown Peoria, has 323 rooms) operating at low capacity with a skeleton staff is a far cry from where the Marriott properties stood at the start of the year, said McLinden.
“We were just coming back in the market following the bankruptcy when the wheels came off on March 17,” he said.
After a lengthy battle in bankruptcy court, control of the Pere and Courtyard was wrested away from developer Gary Matthews in 2018. The new owners, the Washington D.C.-based National Real Estate Advisors, announced plans last year to make the hotel “a beacon for downtown improvement.”
Despite the impact of the virus, McLinden remains upbeat about the hotels and downtown Peoria.
“I’m optimistic that travelers will soon be coming back to this market,” he said.
Dalfonso also offered an optimistic note.
“Back in March/April, we contracted a custom projection of (area) hotel recovery through the same company we receive reports from each week. We’re ticking a bit higher than those initial projections, so it's a slight beat of optimism as it pertains to the future,” he said.
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