As hotel occupancy drops, some Albany hotels close again

ALBANY— With another wave of coronavirus infections surging across the country, fewer people are staying at hotels, making the already slow winter season even more intimidating for hotel owners.

At the end of October, the country saw the lowest occupancy levels since mid-June. This month that level continued to slip lower, while short-term rentals, like Airbnb, are selling better than hotel rooms, according to data from industry monitor STR.

In response, hotels in the Capital region have made a wide array of decisions from closing temporarily to adding apartment-style rooms and virtual learning packages trying to preserve their business.

Hotels in upstate New York have not been evenly hit. Full-service hotels in Albany that rely on corporate travel or their guests coming for restaurants and bars inside the hotel are struggling, while hotels that provide easy access to nature and social distancing activities like those in Lake George and Lake Placid are having record success.

“Since we reopened in late June, we are busier than we can ever remember,” said Seth Dow, the front-office manager at Mirror Lake Inn in Lake Placid. “Lake Placid in general has not been this busy since the 1980 Olympics.”

Two hotels that were delinquent on their loans in September are now approaching foreclosure. There are now seven hotels in total in the region delinquent on their loans, up from five in September, according to data compiled by industry analyst Trepp.

In Albany, two hotels that reopened on Oct. 1— The Spring Hill Suites and The Holiday Inn Express— have closed yet again.

“It was bad, it was like two guests a day or three. No one was traveling anyway…” said Vicky Sindhu, the operating manager at the Holiday Inn Express, about the month of October. “There (were) no government officials, no trips, no events.”

In Saratoga Springs, The Gideon Putman hotel, starting this month, will not be open to overnight guests until April 2021, but its spa will remain open to visitors.

The Pavilion Grand Hotel, which originally was slated to be condominiums, has now converted all of their hotel rooms to apartments. As of Nov. 1 their length-of-stay requirement is a one-week minimum. They started accepting one-year rentals in September.

“It is more like a home now versus just a hotel stay,” said Susanne Simpson, the director of the hotel’s Hospitality Division. “When COVID-19 struck we had a lot of our clients that were very interested in renting much longer term because of the style of our hotel.”

Terra Stratton from the Washington Park Group echoed this. She is turning people away at their 4th Precinct Apartments in Center Square and she is building two private-entrance suites at their Washington Park Inn because of the high demand for rooms with private access.

Despite the trend, many full-service hotels located in downtown Albany are still struggling.

“Albany is very affordable for a stay right now,” said Bruce Rosenberg, the president of HotelPlanner.com. “I think hotels are taking the necessary steps to remain visible and competitive.”

The Hampton Inn, which is delinquent on its loan, is staying open and its staff is only getting reduced in the normal ways they do during every winter season, said Lloyd Crabtree from the hotel’s management company. “It is hard to reopen, we are trying to not bite that bullet and instead push forward and power it out,” Crabtree said.


The hotel stressed that anytime a negotiation takes place the loan gets categorized as delinquent and that that is not unusual. “We remain cautiously optimistic that we will come to an amicable resolution with the lenders and that business will return to normal in the foreseeable future,” the hotel wrote in a statement.

The Hilton Albany, which Trepp reports having a loan approaching foreclosure, remains open and planning for business to continue for years into the future with no indication of closing, said Jay Cloutier at Discover Albany who frequently speaks with the hotel.

“The full service hotel experience has kind of been wiped away now. You can’t go get a drink in the lobby like you used to be able to,” Cloutier said. “We will see what a legislative session brings when legislators return to Albany to do the business. That generally in the past has brought people back to our hotels.”

Cloutier, and other industry experts, pointed out that a hotel being in foreclosure doesn’t mean that it is final. “There are remedies before you hand over the keys,” Cloutier said.

“The next few months are going to tell the tale,” Rosenberg said. “The hotels that have really cut their expenses and managed what revenue there is out there will make it through this.” Hotels will have to make hard staffing decisions over the challenging winter season, Rosenberg said, but he remains hopeful for the industry as a whole.

“Everybody loves to travel. So long-term I think we will see a resurgence of travel,” Rosenberg said. “This is going to fade away. I can’t see people changing their behavior and not taking a vacation.”

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