Lodging Group Seeks State Relief

OCEAN CITY — The Maryland Hotel Lodging Association (MHLA) last week fired off a letter to Governor Larry Hogan urging targeted COVID relief for an industry twisting in the wind because of the ongoing pandemic.

MHLA President and CEO Amy Rohrer last Friday sent the letter to Hogan and Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz requesting targeted relief for the state’s ailing lodging industry. The letter points out Hogan’s $250 million Maryland Strong: Economic Recovery Initiative included a $100 million emergency rapid response fund for small businesses.

The governor’s initiative sets aside $100 million that can be immediately deployed to areas where there is the greatest need as the pandemic continues to affect various sectors and state and local governments wait for the federal government to take action on additional stimulus relief. Of course, a second federal stimulus package, including potential relief for the failing lodging industry, remains mired in a political stalemate and state aid the lodging industry has been slow coming, according to the letter.

“On behalf of Maryland’s lodging industry, I am reaching out with a critical request for targeted relief for Maryland hotels,” the letter reads. “Hotels have qualified for very little of the COVID-19 relief available to small businesses in Maryland, and yet the majority of hotels in the state are run by small business owners and operators who are among the hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions.”

In the letter, Rohrer explains year-to-date hotel revenue in Maryland is down a little over 48% and occupancy rates among available rooms are down 33% during the same period. She points out over 6% of the total rooms in Maryland are completely closed down.

Perhaps more ominously, a recent study released by the American Hotel and Lodging Association projects 71% of hotels reported they will not last six more months at current projected revenue and occupancy levels.

“Absent further governmental relief, massive foreclosures and permanent closures are predicted,” the letter reads. “We hope to avoid the detrimental impact this will have on Maryland’s economic recovery. It’s not just hotels, but cities, counties and the state that would suffer greater economic loss with shuttered hotels leading to lower property value, tax assessments, loss of hotel tax, loss of sales tax, loss of jobs, etc. Relief is necessary for hotels to survive the tough winter ahead and be part of the economic recovery anticipated in the second quarter of 2021.”

In the letter, Rohrer asserts the state’s COVID-19 layoff aversion fund is not reaching Maryland’s lodging industry.

“Initially, the COVID-19 layoff aversion fund appeared to be something that would help get us through the next quarter,” the letter reads. “However, as we have applied and been denied, we’ve become aware that this program isn’t targeted for an essential industry that relies heavily on frontline employees who cannot be transitioned into working remotely. We need employees to keep hotels open, but we also need guests occupying the hotel at a high enough level for doors to stay open.”

The letter adds, “The lodging industry was among the first to be impacted by the pandemic and we will be one of the last to recover,” the letter reads. “We respectfully urge your consideration of direct relief for hotels, similar to the $50 million grant program providing direct relief for restaurants. We are in need of relief that can be used for debt or operating expenses, such as mortgage payments, insurance, utilities, property taxes, payroll and payroll taxes, franchise fees and permit fees.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.