One sign of COVID-19 recovery: Brides and grooms.
Hotels and motels across the region have reported an uptick in wedding reservations, as couples move forward with marriage ceremonies.
Signs of hope, they assume that Vermont and New Hampshire will ease COVID limits on gatherings, and that a vaccinated population will resume travel and get-togethers.
Jay Peak Resort has approximately “40 to 50” weddings scheduled for the summer. Some were rescheduled from last year, others are new. They will be vital for the resort, which remains cut off from Canadian customers due to the ongoing international border closure.
“I’m very optimistic,” said President and General Manager Steve Wright. “I don’t expect to get back to 2019 numbers, but if we can pull off these 40 to 50 weddings that will be a success.”
Similarly, the Omni Mount Washington Resort has reported strong interest in wedding packages.
With the addition of the brand-new, 16,000-square-foot, on-mountain Rosebrook Lodge, the resort now has three wedding venues. Meanwhile, the newly-built 60,000-foot Presidential Wing adds 69 guest rooms to the historic hotel.
“Weddings have been really strong,” said spokesman, Craig Clemmer, noting that “a lot of weddings have been displaced in surrounding states [due to COVID] so we’re getting very vigorous inquiries.”
Following a busy winter season, with people flocking to the Bretton Woods ski area, Omni Mount Washington anticipates a strong spring and plans to fill approximately 100 positions to handle customer traffic in the summer and fall.
Numbers may not reach pre-COVID levels, but they could be close. One indicator is the traditionally slow mud season. Omni Mount Washington reports that April 2021 business is already trending ahead of April 2019, showing.
“People are pent up and are looking for a great outdoor experience, and we definitely have that in spades here in the White Mountains,” Clemmer said. “There’s plenty of places to roam.”
Derrick Grannai, owner of the 83-room Newport City Inn and 53-room Derby Four Seasons, said his establishments reflect the ups and downs of the COVID economy.
Despite a steep decline in family and business travel, the Newport City Inn continues to host essential workers (such as medical and corrections personnel) and, like the larger resorts, has seen an increase in wedding bookings.
“We’ve done some tentative wedding bookings. From the end of July through the first week of October, we’re almost sold out every weekend, which is a great thing,” he said.
However, the Derby Four Seasons has struggled with very low occupancy rates, due to the absence of cross-border traffic. It typically serves a large Canadian clientele.
“The border being closed is really tough,” he said, noting there is no firm re-opening date for the border. “We have a lot of regulars who come down from Canada.”
To make it through the pandemic, Grannai has relied on federal and state relief programs.
Those funds have allowed Grannai to retain staff and continue operations through the darkest days of the COVID downturn.
“We’ve literally applied to every program out there. We’ve gotten something so far from every program that’s been offered. That’s the main reason why [the Derby Four Seasons] has been able to keep going,” he said. “Those programs were huge for us. Especially the last one that came through [the reauthorized Payroll Protection Program]. Our resources were just about nothing. We didn’t have enough money coming in to cover payroll, much less the mortgage and utilities. So to get several months of payroll covered was crucial.”
The lodging industry faces a slow recovery. It will take time for people to get vaccinated and resume travel, and for states to ease COVID rules. In the meantime, hotels and motels will need more help.
“I feel pretty confident that, if we can get one more round of stimulus, then we will be able to make it through this,” Grannai said. “We’re just trying to stay optimistic at this point. Things have to change or the money will run out. I don’t like to think of that scenario, because it’s scary. No one wants to lose a business, that’s for dang sure.”