Tampa Bay hotels are on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19

Hospitality for Hope Initiative launches across US
Posted at 6:40 PM, Apr 08, 2020

TAMPA BAY, Fla. -- Hotels nationwide are on the front line in the fight against COVID-19. About 15,000 businesses are offering rooms for first responders, hospital workers and people diagnosed with COVID-19.

Right now, more than half of America’s hotels are closed and 3/4th of hospitality employees are laid off, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, and yet, thousands of hotels are stepping up to help during this crisis.

More than 1,000 Florida hotels have volunteered to take part in the Hospitality for Hope Initiative by offering to house people in three categories: first responders and hospital workers, those in quarantine, and people diagnosed with COVID-19. About 150 Pinellas and Hillsborough County hotels are among that group.

Hotels are offering the rooms at rock-bottom prices so they can break even, but not turn a profit. In turn, hospitals or local governments pay them for rooms.

At least three hotels in the Tampa Bay area are currently open to people with COVID-19 cases including an unnamed hospital in Clearwater and the Quality Inn and West Wing Hotel on Fowler Avenue in Tampa.

Many others are stepping up to give hospital workers and first responders a place to stay where they don’t have to worry about commuting home or getting their family members sick.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association are heading up the Hospitality for Hope Program. They expected a few hundred hotels to sign up, but tell ABC Action News they were blown away to have 15,000 and counting volunteer their rooms.

The Epicurean Hotel in Tampa is already helping to house hospital workers from Tampa General Hospital by offering a caregiver rate and they are ready to bring back more staff to help as COVID-19 cases peak in Tampa Bay.

Tom Haines, the vice president of Mainsail Lodging, which manages the Epicurean and other Florida Hotels, says they are happy to do whatever they can in this crisis. “We’re here and ready to support the community when they need us. The community has been supporting us for years and this is just a small way to give back and help out,” Haines explained, “We have our rooms ready and we have a protocol in place to service those guests to make sure they are protected.”

On April 11th, the Bilmar Beach Resort will close their doors for only the 2nd time 4 decades. First, Hurricane Irma. Now, COVID-19.

“It’s the hardest decision I’ve made in 41 years,” General Manager Clyde Smith said. “We are furloughing the last of the employees over the next 2 days. They certainly understand and they’re glad we gave it a good fight.”

And yet, the resort is ready to open rooms to firefighters, police officers and hospital workers needing a place to stay without having to worry about infecting family members.

“This is our time to give back. Anything we can do to help, we will,” Smith added.

Chip Rogers, of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, says he’s proud of the industry.

“Many of our hotels are in their darkest days dealing with closures and furloughs, but the reality is these health problems are even scarier than what they’re dealing with so I think people in need recognize other people are in greater need. I think that’s how our industry has stepped up,” Rogers explained.

Geoff Luebkemann, of the Florida Hotel and Lodging Association, agrees.

“The hospitality industry is on the front lines when there is a need. We are used to responding to hurricanes and sheltering those who need it. We are proud of the immense response from hotels, but not surprised,” he said.