Illinois lawmakers could pass ‘lifeline’ $250 million plan to revive hotels

Published: Mar. 8, 2022 at 5:34 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Illinois hotels are still struggling to recover from revenue loss and staffing shortages over the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, industry leaders hope state lawmakers can give them an extra financial boost.

Two proposals in Springfield could help invest $250 million into a hotel jobs recovery plan. The funding would come directly from dollars Illinois received from the federal American Rescue Plan.

Industry leaders say the $250 million could provide a one-time grant equal to $1,500 per room for every hotel in Illinois. They also stressed that 80% of the funding would have to be used for payroll costs like wages and benefits for hotel employees.

The industry once generated $16 billion in wages and salaries for more than 290,000 jobs. Leaders say this plan would be critical for many hotel employees, most coming from Black and brown communities.

“With the Hotel Jobs Recovery Act, we’d be able to secure better pay for the local staff we do have,” said Anwar Martin, General Manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton in Bloomington. “Including housekeepers, and cooks, and kitchen staff who have been with us for more than 20 years.”

Martin said general managers could also use this funding to hire more staff. He argues any help is great to protect the hotel industry from the unknown with any future COVID-19 variants.

This plan has growing bipartisan support in both chambers. Even if the bills can’t move before the end of the spring, hotel leaders hope lawmakers can include this investment in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget.

“This is a measured strategic response to help one of the state’s most important industries,” said Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago). “As you can tell by the people who have kind of galvanized and decided to partner on this, it’s important for all of us. There is no economic recovery in Chicago, in Illinois, in the Metro East, in DuPage County, if there is no recovery in this industry.”

Sponsors feel their plan could help start the long recovery by lifting up the workers who help put heads in beds. The state lost 40% of its hotel jobs from 2019 to 2021, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Canceled conventions were a major factor in the downturn.

“I’m not sure people understand the number of jobs that have been lost when we lost those conventions. And the ball rolls downhill,” said Sen. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago). “This is really impacting families across the state.”

Hotel leaders said this could be a lifeline for hotels and will help them get back on track sooner than later. Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association President Michael Jacobson said most hotels are owned by franchisees who cannot afford further financial loss. Jacobson has seen several states have success with similar plans.

“There’s an opportunity to hire people right now going into the peak summer travel season. We know that’s going to be a strong season,” Jacobson said. “The problem is, over the last couple of months, with how bad business has been, there hasn’t been the cash flow. There’s no cash flow sitting there to go out and hire 30 or 40 more people at every hotel right now. That’s what this program would do.”

Darin Dame, General Manager of SpringHill Suites by Marriott in Springfield, said he has raised wages from 30-40% since the pandemic started. That’s not unique to Springfield, as Dame and Martin noted that raise was the standard across the state. However, it is much harder for managers to handle the situation when they can’t compete with other industries.

“You’re having to ask people to do more things,” Dame said. “At times, I’m working the front desk. I’ve cleaned rooms. I’ve dumped trash these last two years. Anwar is the same way. We all just have to pull our sleeves up and we have to jump in anywhere else.”

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