Hotels face tough reality: They don’t get love like restaurants — but grapple with similar issues

Dana Lancellotti understands the issue: Consumers don’t have the same relationship with hotels as they do with restaurants. And that’s a problem for a very big part of the state’s hospital industry and tourism sector.

“Hotels didn’t get the love that the restaurants got through the heavy COVID period, when the average citizen was saying: ‘Go to restaurants. We need our restaurants to survive,’” Lancellotti said. “We have a personal connection with our restaurants; there’s an emotional attachment. They know our name, we know the owners, we love our certain meals. 

“We don’t have that emotional connection to a hotel. So, people aren’t as aware of what’s going on with them. And, quite honestly, they have struggled tremendously.”

Lancellotti, the new president of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association, is trying to bring attention to a part of her group that often goes unnoticed — until the time comes when you need a room.

Those rooms, she said, are a huge vehicle for the economy.

“We’re trying to bring back tourism, which is so huge for us economically, but where do people stay if some of our great hotels close — or if they’re not operating at the level that they need to be?” she said. 

A second misperception is this: Hotels aren’t built around being vacation getaways, Lancellotti said.

“Corporate travel is enormous in the survival of hotels,” she said. “Hotels can’t live on just May to September. The loss of corporate business, the loss of conferences, has been huge.”

And it isn’t easily fixed, Lancellotti said.

“It’s going to be a long time before conventions and expos are back,” she said. “You can’t just say, ‘The health numbers look good today, we’ll do our convention in November.’ These things take a lot of planning. It’s not just a matter of marketing and they’ll come back. It’s hard work.”

Who will do that work is another issue, Lancellotti said.

Like many industries, the hotel business is struggling to find staff. New Jersey lost nearly 16,000 jobs in the hotel sector in 2020 — and is projected to lose 9,000 more this year.

And, in this case, it’s a lot of senior staff. Many of the sales professionals who filled those roles moved on to other industries when the hotel industry shut down, she said.

“These are management positions requiring skilled people who took years to get to where they were,” she said. “How do you fill those positions? You can’t just bring somebody off the street and make them a director of sales or general manager of a hotel.”

Lancellotti said the industry would rebuild. But it will not happen overnight, she said.

“We should have a good number of students that are looking to get into the industry — and maybe that’ll be a rush of opportunity for all those kids that are graduating.

“But there’s still going to be a lot of need for training and a lot of need for assistance. That is a place where our association is trying to be helpful — we want to give them assistance on that.”