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Hotels look to reopen during the pandemic

Hotel Chaco front desk agents LaMonica Shultz, left, and Jullian Villaescusa greet guests from behind plexiglass shields Thursday, The hotel recently reopened to a radically different landscape. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Several well-known Albuquerque hotels have begun to reopen their doors to the public after extended closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, they’re opening to a radically different tourism landscape than they encountered earlier this year.

Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa, Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town and Hotel Chaco have each reopened, with fresh renovations and new cleaning protocols.

Tierney Encinias, Lead Guest Host at Hotel Albuquerque, wears a mask and gloves as she passes room keys through a shield at the front desk. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Jim Long, CEO of Heritage Hotels & Resorts, which operates Hotel Albuquerque, Hotel Chaco and other properties around New Mexico, said there’s pent-up demand for hotel space from tourists and locals alike, but he acknowledged that the virus is still creating challenges.

“It will continue to be a tough year for the hospitality industry,” Long said.

Few industries have had a tougher 2020. As of May, the most recent month for which state data is available, New Mexico’s leisure and hospitality sector had shed 37.8% of its jobs in the past 12 months.

The job losses are due largely to the pandemic, which has prompted millions of Americans to reconsider travel plans and led to governments imposing restrictions designed to contain the spread of the virus.

Consequently, hotel occupancy has fallen dramatically. Albuquerque’s occupancy rate in May was 34.9%, according to data provided by Visit Albuquerque.

Adrian Montoya, general manager of Hotel Albuquerque and board president of the Greater Albuquerque Hotel and Lodging Association, acknowledged that the industry has a ways to go before hotels are hitting 50% occupancy with regularity.

“It’s nowhere near where we used to be in the past,” he said.

The industry got more bad news last Wednesday, when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a new public health order that includes an expanded mandate that all visitors to New Mexico must quarantine for 14 days to avoid spreading the virus.

Hotel Chaco Guest Experience Manager Cassondra McIntyre wipes down a cart after helping a guest with their luggage Thursday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“I wish we weren’t in that position, but I think the risks are great enough that we just are asking people to delay their trips here,” Lujan Grisham said.

Long said the new order and other restrictions make it harder for Albuquerque to attract business travel, which has already been dramatically curtailed by the virus. Long said Albuquerque, unlike Santa Fe and Taos, relies heavily on group business travel to fill hotels for much of the year.

Consequently, hotels have had to get creative. Montoya said the crisis has prompted more visitors to book rooms closer to their stay, and the hotel is trying to work with those guests.

“We have pivoted several times since this started, and I think we’ll have to pivot again,” he said.

Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa on Santa Ana Pueblo recently reopened its doors with new safety protocols. (Courtesy of Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort And Spa)

Hotels are also focusing more on in-state visitors. Tamaya announced special rates for New Mexico residents and Heritage Hotels has several deals available for in-state visitors, as well.

“We want our locals to have some sort of an escape,” added Liz Robinson, general manager of Hotel Chaco.

Of course, cleaning is also a priority. In addition to spacing out in shared spaces, such as restaurants, the two Heritage Hotels properties have started placing seals on hotel room doors for guests, telling guests that no one has been into the room since it’s been cleaned.

“We’re cleaning even more than we always have,” Robinson said.

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