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‘Worst year ever’ for hotels in central NY, some down 60-70%

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
The Courtyard Syracuse Downtown hotel.

As schools and colleges get a lot of attention on reopening, elected officials and business leaders in central New York are also focusing on hospitality as the next industry where New York State needs to take action. Hotels have taken a big economic hit.

Developer Ed Riley, the managing member of the Hotel Syracuse restoration, said business is very slow at the Marriott Syracuse Downtown. Occupancy is down 60-70%.

“It’s not a little bit of a difference,” Riley said. “It’s huge.”

Close to 50% of their business is catering, which has been closed down since March.

“Think about running a business and having half of your revenue taken away from you,” Riley said. “It is very stressful. It’s been six months now that we haven’t had the revenue in the stream. It’s been a difficult time.” 

Riley said they’re looking forward to the state relaxing some of its rules, like a 14-day mandatory quarantine for travelers coming from a list of restricted states. He said they also want guidelines relaxed for the catering side of their business, so they can get back to hosting larger weddings and banquets. Currently, weddings are restricted to 50 guests, although that’s being challenged in federal court. Recently, more than 100 Covid cases were linked to a wedding in Maine.

Riley sees a bright future in 2021. But Danny Liedka, president and CEO of Visit Syracuse, said he doesn’t think the hotel industry will return to normal until 2022.

“We’re starting to see the first quarter of next year start to soften a great deal,” Liedka said.

He said this year has been the worst year ever for hotels, locally. There are roughly 9,000 hotel rooms in Onondaga County. Normally in August, 70% of rooms are occupied.

“I think this year, we’re going to be lucky to get to 30%,” Liedka said. “It’s a staggering, staggering result.”

Similarly, Onondaga County collects $7 million in room occupancy tax in a good year and Liedka said they’ll be lucky to get $3 million. County Executive Ryan McMahon said he’s been talking with state officials about doing something to get more business to the hospitality industry.

“This is a virus. It’s about how we can mitigate risk while still living with this,” McMahon said. “If you want to talk about how to get the unemployment rate down, and you want to talk about how to get some economic activity, getting hospitality increased is the way to do that.”

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.