Baton Rouge hospitality industry takes hit as business dries up 

Industry leaders are beginning to assess the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the city’s hospitality and visitor’s industry—and the numbers aren’t pretty.

According to Visit Baton Rouge, 45 conventions have canceled events planned for what had promised to be a busy spring season. The cancellations have resulted in the loss of 7,600 hotel room nights and more than $7 million in direct revenues, not including what those visitors might have spent while here on business.

Additionally, three groups have canceled conventions planned for the Raising Cane’s River Center, 10 tour groups have called off visits, and 24 riverboats with as many as 3,700 passengers have canceled planned river cruises that included stops in Baton Rouge.

“March was supposed to be one of our best months of the year,” says Visit Baton Rouge President and CEO Paul Arrigo. “This couldn’t have hit us at a worse time.”

The swift and sudden downturn has caused occupancy rates at the market’s 73 hotels to plummet from around 70%, which is typical for this time of year, to around 10% last weekend.

So far, no properties have announced they will permanently close, but closures are expected soon and thousands of employees have already been laid off, Arrigo says.

Statewide, the picture is equally grim. On Jim Engster’s “Talk Louisiana” radio show this morning on WRKF, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, whose office oversees the state’s tourism industry, said visitors to the state spent more than $1 billion last year in Louisiana, an average of $1,000 per family, and are vital to the state’s economy .

‘We were on track to have another record year,” Nungesser said. “This is going to be a devastating blow.”

Nungesser held a conference call Monday with local hospitality industry leaders from around the state. He says they all shared similar stories and dire predictions of what the future holds if things don’t turn around quickly.

“All these CVBs are funded by the hotel motel tax,” he says. “These are the people trying to keep the conventions booked down the road. So, if the CVBs go away, we lose these people who have relationships all over the country.”

Engster noted that the start of LSU football season is just 155 days away and asked Nungesser if he’s concerned that the pandemic might stretch into the fall, potentially killing the college and professional football seasons.

“I would hate to think that,” Nungesser said. “I’m still optimistic that this thing will get under control and we’ll see a downside and be able to get Louisiana moving again.”

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