How Chicago Hotels Are Grappling With a Limited Reopening

Patrons might be flocking back to Chicago’s bars and restaurants in phase four of the state’s reopening plan, but there’s one major industry still waging an uphill battle: hotels.

With business travel at a near standstill, and conventions and events capped at 50 people for the foreseeable future, Chicago hotels of all sizes are trying to figure out how to stay afloat during the “new normal.”

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“Essentially all corporate business, convention business, meeting business has all stopped,” said Nabil Moubayed, general manager at Chicago’s Kimpton Gray hotel. “Most of it is weekend leisure travel. So Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights have been decent for us, so occupancy now, on a good night, might be 20%-30%. But in general still very, very low.”

One major issue Chicago hotels are grappling with is the 50-person capacity limit for events currently in place under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan.

Local hoteliers say they’d like to get some leeway on that rule over the next few months, so larger gatherings, like weddings, can take place.

READ: Going to a Wedding or Planning One in 2020? Here’s What You Can Expect

George Jordan is president of Oxford Hotels and Resorts, which operates LondonHouse, the Godfrey, and several other Chicago properties.

He says he’d like to see the state enter into a “phase 4.5,” which would include expanded event capacity.

“I don’t want to argue or play scientist here, but I think there’s got to be something between phase four and phase five,” Jordan said. “You have a lot of real estate in these hotels – ballrooms, restaurants, meeting rooms, event centers – that are simply not being used because of the various constraints. And obviously that’s very deleterious to our profit and loss statements.”

And the restrictions are also being felt by some of the smallest hotels in the city, like the Publishing House Bed and Breakfast in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood.

Owner Kimberly Lowery expects to see around a 30% loss in 2020 – but says there’s already been an influx of reservations for 2021 as travel plans and events get rescheduled.

And she says some travelers are increasingly attracted to more intimate spaces like her bed and breakfast during the pandemic.

“We’re a much smaller space with a much smaller staff. We only at maximum can have 22 people in-house, and we have three staff. So we just don’t have that frequency of public spaces, like a lot of other people do,” Lowery said.

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