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Tourists are returning to Virginia Beach, but hotels are struggling to rebound from pandemic
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Tourists are returning to Virginia Beach, but hotels are struggling to rebound from pandemic

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An aerial view shows the Virginia Beach Oceanfront north of 32nd St. in March.

Appearing before a Senate committee in Washington, Dr. Anthony Fauci talked about what we know about COVID-19 vaccine efficacy — and why increased vaccine uptake is critical as the delta variant surges. (Credit: Reuters)

This summer is shaping up to be a much better season for Virginia Beach hoteliers, who are still digging out of the COVID-19 trench.

The tide started to turn in May.

“Memorial Day weekend was one of the best weekends the area has had in a long time,” said John Zirkle, president of the Virginia Beach Hotel Association. “It was hopping.”

But it’s going to take a long time for the numbers to climb back up to pre-pandemic levels, even as people are starting to get back on the road again with restrictions lifted and vaccines widely available.

“We still have a long way to go to make up for the losses over the last 15 months,” Zirkle said.

In the first quarter of 2021, coronavirus restrictions were still in place, but by May, vacationers were on the move. Hotel occupancy rates in Virginia Beach rose to 68.5%, the highest rate since the start of the pandemic, according to a city report with Smith Travel Research data.

The occupancy rate is still trailing 2019 levels, but guests are willing to pay more for a place to rest their heads, with money saved after months of being housebound.

The average room rate in May was $155.26, which was $19.78 more than guests paid for a room in May 2019.

Hoteliers are forced to charge more to keep up with other cost increases, Zirkle said.

Linens, shampoo and toilet paper are 8 to 10% more expensive these days. Add that to a tight labor market, which has made staffing difficult and overtime pay a must for employees, Zirkle said.

Revenue per available room — a performance measurement calculated by multiplying a hotel’s average daily room rate by its occupancy rate — was up $7.59 , according to the report.

Meanwhile, hoteliers are still wrestling with a bottom line that is barely budging.

“We’re not necessarily seeing a lot more profit,” Zirkle said.

He hopes Virginia Beach will soon follow the lead of other Virginia localities that have committed federal pandemic relief funds for hoteliers. Fairfax approved a $25 million grant program in June for the county’s tourist-related businesses, including hotels that experienced at least a 15% drop in business because of the pandemic. Hotels can receive $400 per room, according to reports.

“It’s going to take a year or two of getting things back to normal for hotels, to dig themselves back out,” Zirkle said.

Stacy Parker, 757-222-5125, stacy.parker@pilotonline.com

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