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Buffalo Niagara hotels take a pounding from cancellations due to virus scare

Hotels across the Buffalo Niagara region are getting hammered by the novel coronavirus scare.

With sporting events, meetings, concerts and other large gatherings canceled, business at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo is off by about 50%.

It's off by about 20% at the Hotel @ the Lafayette in downtown Buffalo.

And in Amherst, the owner of the Hyatt Place Hotel and the Reikart House lost $30,000 in bookings on Friday alone after a hockey tournament was canceled and a local trade group dropped plans for a monthly breakfast meeting.

And so it goes for the local hotel industry as travel, tourism and sporting events grind to a halt indefinitely.

"We've had substantial loss of business, and it appears it's getting worse," said Paul Snyder Sr., chairman of Snyder Corp., which owns the Hyatt Regency Buffalo at Fountain Plaza, the city's second-largest hotel. "Our group business through the convention center has almost dropped dead."

He estimated the hotel's business is off by about 50%, though he wouldn't provide any dollar amounts.

"When you cancel an NHL game or NBA game, it's not just the team staying here. It's the officials, the media, the fans. You lose all of that," Snyder said. "We had a substantial amount of the group-type business in the city, so we've been hurt fairly seriously."

Snyder described the crisis as unprecedented. "We’ve never seen anything like this before, and this is our 36th year of operating the Hyatt. There’s nothing even close to this," Snyder said.

Conditions are just as bad for the Buffalo Grand Hotel, formerly the Adam's Mark, which is Buffalo's biggest hotel with nearly 500 rooms.

"It’s had a massive effect on everybody, there’s no question about that," said Harry Stinson, the Hamilton, Ont.-based owner of the Buffalo Grand. "I can’t think of anybody who wouldn’t be seriously affected by this."

Stinson noted that travel and tourism to Buffalo tends to be event-driven, so the rapid-fire series of suspended activities has left the industry reeling.

"People aren't coming here to lie on the beach. They're coming here for hockey tournaments or concerts or some event," he said. "And those events are now canceled. And people who are having smaller social events are finding their guests are hesitant to show. It's affected the industry across the board."

The hotelier declined to give a detailed estimate of the impact on the Buffalo Grand. "It’s all happening so fast that anybody who gave you a statistic would be inaccurate an hour later," he said.

"It really is massive," he said. "It's devastating and it's changing by the hour."

Stinson worries that the international border could be next, disrupting not only tourism and Canadian shoppers but also airport travelers.

"There you hit the airport hotels as well," Stinson said. "I’d say the downtown hotels are more affected by the events. The airport hotels are mostly travel hotels."

The collapse wasn't limited to the giants. At Rudra Management and Rosewood Hotels, owner and CEO Jayesh Patel said his company's business is down 30% to 40% between hockey and other sports groups, as well as corporate travelers.

"It's a combination of it all coming down very rapidly," he said. "Any hotel in Erie County, they're impacted by at least 25%."

William Paladino agreed. "It's going to be bad. We're just all bracing for it," said the CEO of Ellicott Development Co., which owns and operates multiple hotels, including the new Aloft in downtown Buffalo, at 500 Pearl. "We're seeing a lot of cancellations already. We think it's going to continue as the rhetoric continues about how bad this could get."

Beyond sporting events, Paladino said hotels are being battered by corporate travel bans and the shift of local colleges to online courses. "It's going to keep parents home more now," he said. "It's going to be painful."

"We’ll just hunker down, hope for the best and brace for the worst," he said. "Hopefully we just get through this quickly."

That's Michael Marsch's hope as well.

"We're not panicking yet," said the vice president of operations for Merani Hotel Group, a family-owned operator of hotels on both sides of the border in Niagara Falls. "I think we're still cautiously optimistic that this will hopefully be a relatively short period of time."

He acknowledged that "we’re seeing cancellations at all of our properties," with bookings down at least 10%.

But he noted that Niagara Falls is a "very strong drive-in market," so while international visitors are down, "we're hopeful that the drive-time folks will be visiting more frequently."

"You can't go to Disney World, so let's drive to Niagara Falls," he said.

Niagara Falls tourism feeling sting from COVID-19

Business is off by about 20% at Hotel @ the Lafayette, but developer and owner Rocco Termini said he was surprised to see that the restaurant was not affected yet.

"The weekend will really tell what the prognosis is," he said.

"Are all the bars going to be filled with people celebrating St. Patrick’s or will they stay home? There’s no parades, so there’s only one place that people can go, and that’s bars and restaurants. We’ll see if this makes any difference on their decision-making," Termini said.

And in Amherst, both the Hyatt Place Hotel and the new Reikart House have lost business, including in their restaurants. Just on Friday, the two hotels lost $30,000 in revenue from hotel bookings for a hockey tournament that was canceled, plus a monthly breakfast meeting for a local trade group.

“The hope is that most of the folks who are canceling events now are just postponing, so what we give up now we can pick up later,” said David Chiazza, executive vice president of owner Iskalo Development Corp. “But there’s no doubt there will be a net loss. And every day there’s more cancellations. It will probably get worse before it gets better.”

Ultimately, hotel operators just hope to get back to normal as soon as possible. "The only question is if and when these events will be rescheduled and how long will it take for things to change," Stinson said. "We’re just going to have to get through it and be ready for the summer, and hope that it will be a 60-90 day resolution, if that’s possible."

Patel agreed. "We hope it’s temporary and the situation gets under control, so people can get back to normal traveling," he said.

In the meantime, he said, "the only thing we can do is keep our hotels clean and sanitize them as much as possible."

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