Lack of conventions slam hotel doors, but leisure travel leading comeback in Lincoln | Local

“Unlike FFA and their blue jackets, they just blend in. Most people don’t even know they’re here. But downtown sure knew they weren’t here this summer.”

The loss of conventions, together with the cancellation of Husker and high school athletics, arena concerts and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduation ceremonies, hit downtown hotels hard.

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Two of the three large hotels with convention and meeting space — the Cornhusker Marriott and Graduate — closed for several months, the Cornhusker laying off 79 of its staff. Embassy Suites, the other convention hotel, remained open, but laid off 92 people in May. That same month, a Hyatt call center in the city laid off more than 200 people.

The city’s 5,500 hotel rooms, both in and out of downtown, sat nearly empty from March through early May. But Maul said they’ve had a surprising comeback in business over the summer and into the fall.

“People are still traveling in a lot larger numbers than we thought would be traveling back in March and April,” he said. “We just don’t have the convention business. What we do have is leisure travel. Those numbers have been very positive.”

Now, there’s hope for additional business from smaller meetings and the return of athletics, like the “bubble” basketball tournament being discussed for the arena later this year. That possible business, Maul said, is partially contingent on a key COVID-19 fighting factor.

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