‘It’s been a challenging year’ | Local hotels respond to COVID-19 | Business

Editor’s note: A version of this story was published in the January issue of the Wenatchee Valley Business World.

WENATCHEE — The hotel industry across the state and nation has been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s not all bad news.

Tourist destinations — including Leavenworth and Chelan — reported a summer upsurge in business that helped ease some of the pain. Local hoteliers say they are still hurting, but hopeful.

The Washington Hospitality Association reports a steep decline in local lodging tax revenue compared to 2019, which has been mostly reflective in the valley, where it’s down 45% in Wenatchee (through August) and about 20% in Leavenworth (through September).

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Leavenworth’s tax receipts show business actually improved in late summer, with 2% growth in August and 7% in September, but not enough to overcome the dramatic drops early on — a 76% drop in March, 97% in April and 53% in May. Figures from the last quarter of the year — December traditionally produces the most hotel/motel revenues for the city — are not yet available.

The revenue picture in Chelan is a little different.

According to city lodging tax receipts, Chelan was above 2019 dollars by 1% — $15,603 — through the first nine months of the year (the latest figures available).

That’s mainly because of the tourism swell the city received from June through September — to which anyone who visited the lake town over the summer can attest.

“If you had been here this summer you would not be surprised,” City Finance Director Steve Thornton said in an email. “Chelan had a very busy summer. I assume that our season is reflective of the same busy season in our national forests, campgrounds, and anywhere else people could get out to recreate this year.”


Eric Campbell, left, and Tom Campbell talk about challenges Campbell’s Resort faced in 2020 during an interview Dec. 17. It’s “unlike anything we’ve ever experienced,” Tom said. Both are owners of the family run resort.

While Campbell’s Resort and Midtowner Motel President Tom Campbell conceded the summer was busy, overall the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating.

“The net effect on our business has been nothing short of a disaster for us and our industry,” Campbell said in mid-December. “I can’t speak for the lodging community at large, but we’ve been completely ravaged by this.”

Campbell said a lot of their room bookings and revenues are derived from conferences, events and other government meetings.

“We’re a conference center, so we’re not over last year’s numbers or over the last four months,” Campbell said. “How is our winter faring? It’s an impossible question to answer. It’s bringing far less than what we would anticipate on a normal year based on our conference business. Nothing about this year has been predictable. We saw an influx of folks that needed to get outside over the summer, forest fires eliminated our September and then back into the deep freeze in October. It’s been a challenging year.”

Campbell is relying on another strong summer for tourism in 2021.

“If this last year has taught us anything, it’s that summer will happen,” Campbell said. “People have to get out, it’s our responsibility to provide a safe and responsible place for folks to spend their time. Chelan will continue to be a vacation destination, and we’ll be there for it.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Wenatchee has been down in lodging tax dollars all year.

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Jerri Barkley

Marketing director

Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce

“The average daily rate of a room has dropped by almost $30 and we’re only at 54% of rooms rented,” said Jerri Barkley, marketing director at Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce. “As soon as March hit, we’ve been declining. June was terrible (52.8% occupancy) and August dropped considerably from 2019.”

Worse, 33% of the unemployed workers in Wenatchee and East Wenatchee are in the hospitality industry, Barkley said.

“We’ve lost over 1,500 employees and that was before the last round of closures went into effect, and additional layoffs have happened since then,” she said.

Conventions, which are Wenatchee area hotels’ bread-and-butter, are still a question mark.

“I don’t know how 500 people are going to feel gathering in the same room,” Barkley said.


Freyda Stephens

General manager, Coast Wenatchee Center Hotel

Freyda Stephens, general manager at the Coast Wenatchee Center Hotel, isn’t anticipating bigger meetings until late 2021 or 2022.

She said the Coast Hotel had some nice bumps in July and August with last-minute bookings, but it slowed down in September.

Even so, she expects hotels here to fare better than most.

“I don’t think we’ll hit that 4-of-10 (hotel foreclosure) number,” she said. “Wenatchee has always been a very good price value for guests willing to get out. We know it will be slower in the first quarter based on the meetings that won’t be held, but hopefully, we can get things under control with the pandemic and build back up by summertime. People will want to get out, and we’re here for them. You have to have faith.”

In addition to fewer bookings, Stephens said it’s been costly to get her 147-room hotel COVID-19 ready, which includes acquiring cleaning supplies and PPE for staff. The Coast has spent between $12,000 and $15,000 on supplies — an ongoing expense.

“When it started in March we were just trying to get product and disinfectant, and everyone was loading up on it,” Stephens said. “Personally I think the safest place to be in Wenatchee is in a hotel because we have everything so disinfected. I even have a house person that follows people around and wipes right behind them.”

Steve Tramp, owner of the Wenatchee Comfort Suites and Quality Inn in Spokane said he’s been running about 50% of the business they did last year.

“In Spokane, we’re doing about 40% of the business we did last year, so what that tells me is Spokane is not as hearty of a market as Wenatchee,” Tramp said.

He also is hopeful for the new year, agreeing with Stephens’ projections for a slow first quarter, but improving after that.

His new Sleep Inn opened Jan. 1, on property next to the Comfort Suites.

“You might say it’s crazy (to open) now, but we have the building, we have the permit, and there is no better time to learn than during the slow season,” Tramp said.