Credit: George Danby

The global pandemic caused by COVID-19 has been devastating in every state and every community, including here in Maine. While millions of people and businesses have been impacted by COVID-19, no industry has been more affected than hospitality and travel. Hotels were one of the first industries affected by the pandemic and will be one of the last to recover, despite critical efforts by the Trump administration and Congress, including Maine’s own Sen. Susan Collins. As businesses across the country shuttered in a nationwide effort to keep the country healthy, nearly 4 million hotel jobs were put at immediate risk.

Our top priority is to bring our employees back. With travel largely halted since late February, the impact to the travel industry has been nine times worse than 9/11. The livelihoods of so many hang in the balance.

And thanks to Congress’ immediate action, important steps were taken to pass relief measures to support hoteliers and our employees. Federal lawmakers, led by Collins, fought to pass critical lifelines for the hotel and restaurant industries, including the Paycheck Protection Program to protect small businesses and our employees.

Built on a strong foundation, PPP has helped hoteliers who need it the most — the small business hotel operators and franchise owners make up more than 61 percent of our industry nationwide.

One hotelier, David Hart, who owns three small independent properties in Maine, one of which received a loan, remarked, “PPP was an amazing feat, the fact that [lawmakers] were able to create this program and deploy it in a short window was monumental.” After applying for PPP, he saw money in his account in just one week.

While his property is currently closed, Hart is still able to keep some of his staff in place on a limited basis to answer phones and manage reservations. With the governor’s announcement this week that the state will reopen in phases with lodging for the traveling public resuming in July, Hart hopes to welcome visitors back for the popular summer season.

Hotels are pillars of our communities and have long invested in the communities we serve. Our industry was proud to be among the first to voluntarily support those serving on the front lines of this public health emergency by partnering with federal, state and local governments to open more than 17,000 hotels to healthcare workers and first responders. Right here in Maine, a Portland hotel donated 50 rooms to support local healthcare workers.

However, as this crisis progresses beyond what anyone could have projected an unfortunate reality is that hotels, including Hart’s hotel, will continue to need more help.

Hotels that remain open are operating with minimal staffing. On average, full-service hotels are using 14 employees, down from 50 before the crisis.

And as we slowly shift to working to reopen the economy, we are concerned that most businesses will not be up and running by June 30. While we are eager to see travel resume when it is safe to do so, we are not there yet.

The industry is now at a critical juncture and more has to be done for hoteliers to keep their doors open and rehire employees.

While millions of businesses have been impacted by COVID-19, no industry has been more affected than hospitality and travel. Maine hoteliers, and the industry at large, are lucky to have Collins advocating on our behalf and we look forward to working with her and her colleagues in Congress to build upon the critical work they’ve already done to help the industry and small business operators. We are a resilient industry and a resilient nation. Together we will build a foundation for a stronger tomorrow.

Chip Rogers is the president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Steve Hewins is the president and CEO of Hospitality Maine.