The Illinois Hotel & Lodging Industry unveiled plans last week to safely increase numbers for people to gather at hotel meeting rooms, ballrooms, and conference centers. Michael Jacobson, President and CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association, says the meeting space capacity should be based on size and not on the Restore Illinois Phase 4 guidelines’ arbitrary numbers proposed by the Pritzker Administration. “We are working the Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity to really look at our hotel spaces based on a percentage of occupancy rather than a set amount of people, because hotel barrooms just by nature are much larger spaces. We have much larger kitchen areas to protect our staff and provide social distancing. Many of our spaces can hold safe and responsible meetings and events that might have more than 50 people. What we’re really focusing on is basing things on 50% of the occupancy of the room rather than arbitrary number of just 50 people.”
Jacobson says that downstate, smaller communities will likely capitalize on bouncing back economically in the lodging industry with occupancy rather than larger cities in Phase 4: “Actually some of the smaller destinations throughout the state have the most to capitalize on. I think destinations that are more reliant on large meetings and conventions will be slower to recover, whereas ones that offer more unique experiences, especially to locals that might just want to get out after being stir crazy. They actually have more to capitalize off of this, and people will start traveling to those destinations quicker rather than ones that rely on business conventions and business travel. I think it’s going to be flipping the script around from what cities that typically rely on tourism. I think they are going to have a slower time during the recovery process.”
Jacobson says it’s crucial that hotels, motels, and lodging get back to work to produce revenue for the state through state and local hotel-motel tax revenues. “The tax is universal around the state. So many communities are reliant on that tax base, and it has practically dried up over night. That’s what speaks to the importance of embracing the plan that we have put forward to start scheduling some of these meetings and events held within our hotels, of course focusing on safety and wellness first and foremost; but also start generating some of that business within our hotels responsibly so we can not only put people back to work but generating tax revenue for communities in the state.”
Jacobson is hoping that with support of Democratic lawmakers around the state that Governor J.B. Pritzker will allow exemptions for the hotel and lodging industry in certain circumstances during Phase 4 which is set to begin on Friday, June 26th.