By Dale J. Venturini, President & CEO, RI Hospitality Association
For Rhode Island’s restaurants, hotels and other hospitality businesses, the summer of 2021 was one that tested the resolve of our workers, managers and operators in many ways, some of which were expected, and others that were not.
Prior to the start of the summer, Rhode Islanders were excited for a return to normalcy as most COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in light of the dropping positivity rate and significant number of vaccinations being administered. Little did we know, vaccination rates would slow, and the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant would soon overtake its predecessor and begin to drive cases and hospitalizations right back up within a matter of weeks.
According to a recent National Restaurant Association (NRA) survey, nearly six in ten adults have changed their restaurant use due to the rise of the Delta variant, 19% of adults have stopped going to restaurants, and 37% of adults are opting to order takeout or delivery instead of going to restaurants.
These findings come on the heels of a Salve Regina University study commissioned by the RI Hospitality Association (RIHA) on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to the state’s hospitality and tourism industry in 2020, which revealed a loss of $2.2 billion last year, representing a 30% overall drop from the previous year.
With consumer confidence faltering, labor costs at a ten-year high, supply-chain issues leading to increased food and supply costs, and continued staffing shortages, our industry is in dire need of additional funding.
The RI Hospitality Association (RIHA), the NRA and 50 other state restaurant association partners recently sent a letter to Congressional leadership sharing these new national consumer confidence survey findings* and asking them to provide adequate funds to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) and offer relief for the applications still pending. Rhode Island has more than 1,523 pending applications that total more than $208,933,000 in stabilization funding that would be addressed by the $60 billion proposed replenishment bills.
According to the aforementioned Salve Regina-RIHA study, lodging, meetings and events, and tourism and attractions were most significantly impacted in 2020, with decreases typically ranging between 40% and 60%. While those numbers are sure to have decreased in 2021, we have already seen planned in-person events begin to reinstate capacity limits, shift to virtual models, reschedule for the future, or cancel plans altogether.
This type of disruption is likely to have a ripple effect throughout the entire hospitality industry with our hotels’ expected occupancy rates set to decrease, tourist destinations attracting less visitors than expected, restaurants serving fewer guests, and locals staying home more.
Without more funding, many industry businesses will succumb to their losses and are likely to permanently close as a result. Countless operators have already taken on a massive amount of personal debt in an effort to retain and incentivize staff, adapt to changing public health guidance, and to maintain inventory and offerings. Unfortunately, not all our businesses have survived the pandemic, and the longer we go without additional relief, more will be forced to shut down.
For over a year and a half, our industry has displayed resilience and resolve, despite the barrage of unfortunate and oftentimes unforeseen circumstances that have made our lives increasingly difficult. As we approach the final stretch of 2021 awaiting additional federal relief for our industry, the name of the game is the same as it has been since March of 2020: survival at any cost.
A veteran of more than 25 years in the hospitality industry, Venturini is considered by many to be the voice of the industry in the state of Rhode Island. She has been instrumental in improving the industry’s educational and training programs in the state, as well as enhancing the bottom line of the business she represents. Venturini splits her time between the office and the State House, a constant presence for her membership.