N.S. hotels closing, laying off staff as guest numbers plummet during pandemic

With travel restrictions in place, several hotels in Nova Scotia have closed and others have laid off the majority of their staff — but demand for rooms may be growing from health-care workers. 

Business is down 90 per cent or more, according to a survey of members done this week by the Hotel Association of Nova Scotia, said president David Clark, who is also the general manager of the Atlantic Hotel Halifax. 

“It’s devastating for our industry, we’ve lost between 80 and 92 per cent of our staff right across the board,” he said. 

The vacancy rates are reflected in current pricing, with many hotels that usually charge more offering rooms for less than $100. The Prince George Hotel in downtown Halifax is not taking reservations until June.

Clark said at least seven hotels in Halifax have shut down temporarily. He wouldn’t specify which ones, but said some are part of chains with multiple locations that have amalgamated staffing resources for the time being. 

About 100 people typically work at the Atlantica during the off season, with up to 140 people in the busy summer months. Layoffs started around March 16, on what would have been the first day of March Break, when occupancy plummeted from more than two-thirds of rooms full to fewer than 15 per cent. 

Skeleton crew

Now a skeleton crew of 10 people is running the whole facility.

“We’re just doing what we can to keep the place operational,” Clark said.

“It’s tough, we’re tired. But hotels are here to help and we’ll do what we can to make this as smooth as possible for the province.” 

One frequent call Clark is receiving is from people who wish to self-isolate from their own family. Some are inquiring about booking rooms to avoid contact with family members who’ve recently returned from a trip. 

Others are health-care providers who work at the Halifax Infirmary across the street and want to protect their families from any potential infection. 

Because the hotel is quiet, Clark has set aside a floor to accommodate any health-care workers in need of a place to stay.

“We expect a wave of something to happen over the next 10 days, two weeks. That floor will be completely isolated from other guests,” he said.

Cleaning protocols, social distancing

Typically many of the hotel’s guests are people travelling to Halifax for hospital appointments. The cancellation of non-elective surgeries, such as hip and knee replacements, has contributed to the drop in visitors. There are, however, about a dozen guests who were stable enough to be moved out of the Halifax Infirmary across the street. 

The Nova Scotia Health Authority reached out to go over cleaning protocols and social distancing requirements in anticipation of patients with weakened immune systems staying while attending hospital appointments. 
The Atlantica doesn’t have any guests who are self-isolating due to their own travel, but Clark said they would host people on the condition that they stay in their room and that staff wouldn’t enter the room but would drop off meals or linens at the door. 

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the hotel has limited to two the number of people who can occupy an elevator, which Clark said allows people to maintain the required two metres of separation. 

He said he’s been playing close attention to the chief public health officer’s daily briefings and updating protocols as needed. 

“Guests, the public, are doing a good job at maintaining those distances. So far it’s working quite well,” he said. 


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