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Todd Chaput, the general manager of Holiday inn Express and Suites in Chehalis, has worked for the hotel since it opened on May 18, 2009. That was during the tail-end of the Great Recession of 2008, but in Chaput’s 11 years in the hotel business he has never seen anything like this.
“We had a tough time opening, but you anticipate that when a new place opens,” Chaput said. “We’ve steadily increased from then on and this is the first real downturn we’ve seen.”
Business dropped immediately when the coronavirus hit in March due to leisure travel coming to a standstill with most of the country having stay-at-home orders. With sports canceled worldwide, thousands of parents and athletes in the region that typically visit the NW Sports Hub in Centralia every spring stopped coming, as well. There are usually big indoor volleyball and softball tournaments going on during May. Wedding venues in Lewis County were put on hold, too. All of those resulted in a sharp downtick in business for the hotel.
The only customers who haven’t stopped coming are corporate. Holiday Inn in Chehalis is mainly a corporate hotel, anyways, Chaput said. Its busy days are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, rather than the usual weekends for most hotels.
“Some local businesses have seen an increase, so they’ve been bringing people in from around the country for work,” Chaput said. “That’s who’s been keeping our hotel afloat.”
They have started to see a slow increase in customers the past six weeks since the initial drop in mid-March. But they currently have about 50 percent of the customers they usually get during this time of the year.
They’re not alone. Many hotel chains in the U.S. were hit hard from the coronavirus. Hilton and Marriott began furloughing employees on March 17, with Hilton closing a bulk of its hotels in major cities and Marriott closing 25 percent of its hotels worldwide. Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), the company that owns the Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza chains, saw bookings drop by 80 percent in April.
Holiday Inn in Chehalis had to temporarily lay off 22 of its 34 employees in March. That left just 12 to run the entire hotel.
“We’ve been in communication with those employees, and we’ve slowly started bring some of them back as you start to see the numbers increase,” Chaput said.
The hotel hasn’t focused on trying to bring new guests in because of all the leisure travel restrictions from state-to-state. Instead, they’ve worked on maintaining their relationships with their current corporate accounts and making sure they’re aware the hotel is open.
It has had to change the way they operate business, however. With limited contact, spacing requirements and size of groups, Chaput has had to temporarily close down the dining area, meeting spaces, fitness center and the pool. Chaput is looking forward to reopening those areas as Lewis County moves through Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase plan for the state.
They still offer a limited to-go breakfast that includes a piece of fruit, muffin and bagel. There are individually-wrapped microwavable breakfast sandwiches and burritos, along with juices and milk. There is also hand sanitizer on the table with a reminder to use it after people open the fridge.
The hotel leaves rooms vacant for a couple days after someone checks out to prevent any potential virus from spreading. Cleaning and sanitizing has also been ramped up to ensure the safety of the guests and staff. Every handle and doorknob in public areas gets sanitized routinely, along with elevator buttons on the four-story hotel.
“We’ve always cleaned the bathrooms multiple times a day, but we never thought to sanitize every handle in the building every hour,” Chaput said. “It would have seemed ludicrous three months ago, but it’s the new reality.”
The hotel has a table in front of the registration counter that acts as a barrier to maintain a six-foot distance between guests and employees. Most of these measures come from IHG and are similar to what every Holiday Inn in the state is using.
Chaput is optimistic the hotel will be able to keep its doors open as counties around the state are beginning to move to phase two of Gov. Inslee’s plan, which lessens the restrictions on group activities.
Chaput, until last month, was the board chair of the Lewis County Public Facilities District, the organization that built the NW Sports Hub, a 76,500-square-foot indoor sports facility in Centralia that draws up to 3,000 visitors a weekend from around the region. Once that opens up, the hotel will be seeing a big increase in guests, Chaput expects.
“We’re hoping that can start back up in the near future,” Chaput said. “It’s a big bonus to our community, not just to our hotels.”
More Information on Holiday Inn Express and Suites Chehalis
General manager: Todd Chaput
Location: 730 NW Liberty Pl., Chehalis