Trump Supporters Gave D.C. Hotel Business Shot In The Arm Before Capitol Insurrection
The District was thrown into chaos Wednesday as thousands of President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the Capitol building in a violent attempt to overthrow the election that left four people dead.
The group largely consisted of visitors to D.C., and they filled up the city's hotels to the highest level many have seen since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Four hotel owners, three of whom spoke to Bisnow Wednesday morning before the scene turned violent, said they were at or near full occupancy.
The hotel managers, who had expected the group to remain peaceful, said they believe the surge in demand this week will eclipse what they are anticipating for the inauguration, typically the D.C. hotel market's busiest week every four years.
Hotel owners have hoped the inauguration would provide a boost in demand from the low occupancy levels they have experienced throughout the pandemic. D.C. hotel occupancy last month averaged 28%, down from 54.8% during December 2019, according to STR.
The newly opened AC Hotel Washington D.C. Convention Center was fully occupied Tuesday and Wednesday nights, said Director of Sales and Marketing Erich Hosbach, who spoke to Bisnow Thursday morning.
It was obvious to the hotel management beforehand that the spike in reservations was associated with the pro-Trump demonstration, he said, because it was a much higher level of demand than it has experienced in previous weeks. But the AC Hotel, a Marriott-branded property, welcomes guests of all political ideologies and had expected it would be a peaceful demonstration, Hosbach said.
"We certainly did not anticipate things going south the way that they did," he said.
Hosbach said he was concerned as the afternoon's mayhem unfolded that people would still be riled up when they returned to the hotel, but he said that wasn't the case and most people calmly returned to their rooms. He said there were some challenges in making guests comply with the mask requirements, but he said the hotel was able to follow its safety protocols. Looking back on it, he said the hotel doesn't regret accepting the business.
"We're designed to accept guests as a hotel," Hosbach said. "I wouldn't say we have any regrets. Obviously, the hotel and the food and beverage business throughout the country are suffering, and any opportunity to increase occupancy and revenue is welcomed."
Destination D.C. CEO Elliott Ferguson, the head of D.C.'s tourism agency, spoke out against the violence that this week's visitors brought to the city.
"Washington, D.C. is a place where people come to express their First Amendment rights and that's an economic boost that we would typically welcome, especially given the pandemic that has so severely impacted local jobs and the local economy," Ferguson said in a statement. "But there is no place for the insurrection that we saw yesterday and I'm saddened by the unfortunate circumstances and loss of life. We do not welcome violence in the city."
Unite Here Local 25, a 7,500-member union of D.C.-area hospitality workers, requested that its members be evacuated from hotels after the storming of the Capitol began Wednesday. Communications Director Benjy Cannon told Bisnow Thursday that hotel management largely accommodated the requests.
"We think it was imperative that as few workers as possible had to deal face to face with any of these people given their lack of concern for safety around COVID," Cannon said. "And the majority of our members are immigrants and people of color who we did not want to interact with violent racists."
"These spikes [in demand], while they are difficult to handle operationally and difficult to handle when you have a lot of people in town that are very passionate about something, it is the revenue that allows the business to keep going, stay open and employ people," Atkeson said.
Atkeson said there were some issues enforcing the hotel's coronavirus-related safety precautions, such as the requirement that all guests wear masks in common areas.
"Masks can be a political statement, so we certainly have run into situations where guests are not happy about having to wear masks," Atkeson said.
The Hyatt Regency Washington Capitol Hill, sitting four blocks from the Capitol, reached about 80% occupancy this week, said Director of Sales and Marketing Ray Messina, who spoke to Bisnow Wednesday morning, before the violence broke out.
"Nobody expected this gathering to be as robust as it has been," Messina said. "So we knew that it was coming, but we didn't know it would be to this level. We picked up very strong over the last two weeks, and it has been a welcome situation for us."
Donohoe Hospitality President Thomas Penny, whose firm owns and manages about a dozen hotels in the region including at least three around the National Mall, said the majority of its portfolio was over 60% occupancy for Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Penny, who spoke to Bisnow Wednesday morning, said multiple of his company's hotels were fully booked.
"Here we have a group of passionate supporters who have not been as concerned with the pandemic, they have been willing to travel in a way that most are not in this environment," Penny said.
Penny said he expects the demand hotels experienced this week will be higher than what they will receive for the inauguration. The inauguration is typically akin to the Super Bowl for the D.C. hotel market, he said, with hotels filling up and rates far exceeding the nightly average.
But he said Wednesday morning that most of Donohoe's hotels are still in the 10% to 30% range for inauguration week bookings, and they have one hotel at 57%: the Hyatt Place Washington D.C. National Mall.
He attributed the slow bookings to the approach that President-elect Joe Biden's team has taken for the event. The Presidential Inaugural Committee last month said the Jan. 20 event will include a limited footprint, and it urged the public not to travel to D.C. for the inauguration and instead to watch it from home.
While Penny said this is a responsible approach to the health crisis, he said it is disappointing for hotels that had been looking to the inauguration to provide a boost to demand after a devastating nine months.
"We really, really needed the hours for our team members, we needed the energy going into 2021, and we needed the sense of optimism and hope the event was going to bring," Penny said. "But I'd say what's important is to get COVID in our rearview mirror."
Messina said Wednesday morning he expects the Hyatt Regency's occupancy for the inauguration will be around 25% to 35%. Not only does the hotel typically have full occupancy and higher rates during the week, he said it hosts large banquets that generate additional revenue, but the District's coronavirus restrictions now prohibit such gatherings.
"The inauguration is going to fall far short from what we typically do," he said. "Historically, this property is the epicenter of the inauguration, because of the location to the Capitol and where the ceremony takes place."
Atkeson said he expects inauguration week demand at the W Hotel will be much lower than usual, but he declined to provide current reservation numbers or projections.
"We're expecting a much lower occupancy and rate for that week than probably any other inauguration in our lifetime because the incoming administration doesn't want to bring crowds together," Atkeson said.
The 234-room AC Hotel, which timed its October opening around preparing for the inauguration, is currently around 75% booked, Hosbach said. But he said it had previously fully sold out for the inauguration, and then it had a wave of cancellations after the inaugural committee urged people to stay home.
"The inauguration committee started to come out with more information, and we started to see more dwindling because people said, 'Oh, it's not going to be fun or exciting,'" Hosbach said. "And then the campaign said, 'Please don't come to Washington,' so that was a pin in the balloon."
Foxhall Partners Managing Partner Brian Friedman, whose firm owns D.C. hotels that are farther away from the National Mall, such as the Glover Park Hotel Georgetown and The Line D.C., said they experienced a slight bump in demand this week but didn't fill up because they avoided marketing directly to the Trump-supporting visitors.
He is taking a different approach for inauguration week, when the Glover Park Hotel Georgetown is offering special four-night packages for visitors. He said the packages will incorporate its outdoor seating with food and televisions showing the inauguration, and it is curating safe outdoor activities such as visits to Rock Creek Park and Georgetown.
"That is a celebration, so we're embracing that and we're creating packages and we have people coming for four nights," Friedman said. "The market itself will be 50% to 70% [occupancy], but because of what we'll curate and sell as a hotel, we'll sell out over inauguration."
The hotel managers who are seeing slow bookings for the inauguration acknowledged that the situation could change over the next two weeks and demand could pick up, especially if Trump supporters return to oppose the swearing-in ceremony.
But that presents new issues, Hosbach said, because the guests who have already booked rooms for the inauguration are likely Biden supporters, and the two groups could come into conflict.
"There is some concern that the agitators over the last few days may seek to return to the capital to bring new mayhem on inauguration, and that could cause a conflict within the hotel because folks who have already made reservations are here to support the peaceful transition of power," Hosbach said. "But we're in the business of welcoming guests regardless of their political affiliations, and we will not tolerate anyone breaking the law, breaking our policies or harassing other registered guests of the hotel."