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Hotel operators may not see much revenue from offering their event spaces as coronavirus vaccine sites, but this is about the long game: the easier it is to vaccinate people, the quicker a hotel industry recovery can take place.

A Maryland casino has found a new medical life for its unused event space during the coronavirus pandemic — and the greater hotel industry wants to replicate the model to speed up the recovery timeline.

Healthcare personnel are now administering coronavirus vaccines from meetings and event space at the Cordish Companies’ Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland just outside Baltimore. Working in partnership with the Anne Arundel County health department, the casino is able to vaccinate 100 people an hour, a company spokesperson told Skift Monday.

The inoculation site, which opened last week, is an early start in what industry leaders hope can be another instance of hotel owners offering up their properties to help in controlling the virus.

It’s not the first instance of the private sector chipping in to help with vaccine distribution. Companies like Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks offered their supply chain resources to the U.S. government to accelerate vaccine distribution.

But hotels as vaccines sites is a mutually beneficial relationship.

“This is about doing the right thing and helping this process along at a faster rate,” said American Hotel & Lodging Association CEO Chip Rogers. “It’s also somewhat self-serving in that the faster we vaccinate people, the faster people get back to traveling.”

Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland (credit: Live! Casino & Hotel)

The AHLA has reason to pursue any strategy at speeding up the hotel industry’s recovery. While demand is not expected to return to 2019 levels until 2024, nearly half of customers see a vaccine as key in their return to traveling, according to the AHLA’s 2021 State of the Hotel Industry report.

“If we’re only successful in moving up that recovery timeline by a month, that could still open up another month of summer travel for us,” Rogers said.

The Live! Casino & Hotel vaccine offering works independent of the AHLA.

Hotels For Healthcare

This isn’t the first time the AHLA has worked toward finding alternative healthcare uses for empty hotels during the pandemic. Its Hospitality for Hope program includes other initiatives like supplying healthcare and government agencies with places to stay during the pandemic. Nearly 20,000 hotels are part of that program, Rogers said.

The vaccination offering is an extension of the program, but it is also in its infancy stages of rollout and outreach to organizations like the National Governors Association.

“We’re looking at the struggle states are having in rolling out vaccinations, so maybe hotels can help here,” Rogers said.

The Trump administration last year aimed to have 20 million Americans vaccinated by the end of December. But just shy of 22 million doses of the vaccine have been administered as of Sunday morning despite more than 41 million doses being in distribution in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“With an increase in distribution, I think we can play a direct role in actually helping public health authorities and even private enterprises to at least have the space and proximity to the population that needs to get inoculated,” said Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian, who is also chair of the AHLA board, on a webinar.

The AHLA as well as industry leaders see hotels as a prime opportunity to extend the geographic reach and depth of available vaccination points throughout the country. There are more than 50,000 hotels across the U.S. in communities of all sizes, and a hotel’s design lends itself better than other public spaces for vaccine distribution, analysts say.

A majority of hotels also have refrigeration systems capable of storing vaccines until medical staffers are able to administer them.

“As we’re all sitting around trying to figure out what the spaces are for giving the vaccinations, there are many problems with a lot of them: Do you want all those people walking in and out of schools?” said David Sherwyn, a professor at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration. “Hotels are set up for people coming in and out, and they have the empty space.”

Analysts interviewed for this story weren’t aware of any similar campaign to temporarily use hotels as vaccination centers in other parts of the world.

A Long-Term Play

The differentiator in the U.S. hotel industry’s latest pandemic healthcare offering is it isn’t expected to bring in much revenue for owners.

When hotels were used to house frontline medical staff or patients needing to quarantine last year, governments would reserve blocks of rooms or entire hotels. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot estimated the city would need to spend $1 million per hotel for 30-day blocks of rooms to help residents with mild cases of the virus self-isolate.

While this wasn’t the same kind of revenue levels seen with a conference or business transient customers pre-pandemic, it was still some level of cashflow to help address debts at a time of record-low occupancy rates.

But revenue would likely be less this time around, with governments only needing to rent out an event space — and sometimes even that wouldn’t be required. The Live! Casino & Hotel is donating their space to healthcare officials to administer the vaccine.

“We don’t get anything additional out of the partnership outside of helping the community,” Dara Cohen, a company spokesperson, said. “To us, that is the reward: being part of the solution.”

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Tags: ahla, coronavirus, coronavirus recovery, hyatt

Photo credit: The U.S. hotel industry is offering the use of underutilized hotels to speed up the coronavirus vaccine distribution process. Andrey Popov / Adobe

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