2020 was a truly terrible year for hotels. In the wake of the pandemic, U.S. occupancy rates fell to 44%, compared to 66% the year prior. And in 2020, hotel room revenue fell by nearly 50%.
Adding to hotels' misery is that U.S. occupancy is only expected to average 52.5% this year -- an increase of just 8.5% compared to 2020. It therefore stands to reason that some hotel operators are desperate for a revenue surge in the near term, and in Tampa, hotel owners are banking on big bucks from an influx of football fans.
With the biggest football game of the year scheduled to take place in Tampa on Sunday, Feb. 7, local hotels and businesses alike are hoping for a strong weekend that will help them turn things around and begin their recovery. But the pandemic may put an end to that particular dream.
Hotel and business owners need a lifeline
When Tampa hosted the big game in 2017, it was a boon to local hotels, restaurants, and other small businesses. But this year, hotel room bookings may be sluggish, comparatively speaking.
A big reason boils down to coronavirus-related restrictions. Only 24,700 people are expected in Tampa's Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, well below its normal capacity of around 66,000 fans. As such, the number of people driving or flying into town in need of lodging will be substantially lower.
Also, while Tampa residents may be celebrating the fact that their hometown team, the Buccaneers, made it all the way to the ultimate championship, that's a bad thing for hotels. Now, fewer fans are likely to require lodging because many will be local already. While some local businesses -- namely, bars and restaurants -- may enjoy an uptick in revenue courtesy of local patrons, hotels will be left out in the cold.
Normally, hotels can raise room rates by at least 50% to host football fans for the big game. That's a huge opportunity to compensate for a sluggish 2020 and the start of a similarly paced 2021. But if there's limited demand for lodging this year due to the aforementioned circumstances, Tampa hotels may also have to take their pricing down a notch to stay competitive and draw in guests. That, too, is apt to thwart their recovery attempts.
All told, the biggest football event of the year may not be enough to save sluggish Tampa hotels this year. And that's bad news for an industry that spent the better part of 2020 shedding jobs and grappling with record vacancies.
The Millionacres bottom line
With the rollout of coronavirus vaccines, U.S. travel may pick up later on in 2021 when more of the general population is able to get a shot. That could help hotels nationwide start to dig out of the hole the pandemic threw them into. But the big question is whether hotels -- and local businesses, like restaurants -- can hang on until then. It's this very uncertainty that makes a sluggish football weekend a harsh blow for Tampa.