So how has the hospitality industry recovered as the COVID-19 pandemic continues? Joe Cozart, the former general manager of the Grand Forks Ramada Inn who now runs the consulting firm OpXGroup, said the dramatically increased occupancy rates in recent months may be due to multiple factors, but there are still has room to develop.
“It’s definitely improved since (June),” Cozart said. “It was about 40%, and now it’s up about 59%. It’s an improvement over the past three months so we’ve had a good summer. The weather has a lot to do with it. We call it “construction season”. We had a few tourists and a few groups, but not many. Not like we did in 2019 and back, and the Canadian border is still closed. It did not recover.
Canada allows fully vaccinated travelers to enter the country, but with the United States not yet allowing Canadians to cross the border, businesses in the region have yet to reap the benefits of additional tourism. Cozart said that once the border opens, the hospitality industry will benefit from a sharp increase in occupancy rates.
“(It will be) a minimum of 25%,” Cozart said. “It’s always been that level of impact. Our occupancy rate would definitely increase, and you would see the city at almost 70% (occupancy) when that opens, with travel being good right now and people moving… I think the Canadian border right now, for Grand Forks, is our number one issue.
As for the pandemic itself, Cozart said those in the hospitality industry were weary of the return of restrictions. The return of mask warrants and other precautionary measures could impact the industry.
“The Delta variant is about and people are going back to masks, it is about us,” Cozart said. “How long will the good times last or do the bad times return?” Will there be new variants?
Answers to these questions have yet to be provided, but Cozart said he did not see the Delta variant drop hotel occupancy in the region to its level in the early days of the pandemic in early 2020.
“I can only measure it by what we see, and I don’t see people wanting to stop traveling like we did last time around,” Cozart said. “We probably don’t feel that the Delta variant is going to affect us at the level of what we were in terms of a pandemic. Will there be an effect? Sure. But, our occupancy rate in Grand Forks was the highest since COVID started. So, I’m not sure if there’s anything we need to do about the Delta variant, because it doesn’t seem to be slowing us down, and if there is, it’s like the border. It would be a measurable way to increase the occupancy rate. The rest is just speculation. “
Until July 2021, Grand Forks has an occupancy rate of 45.3%. At the same time last year, it was at 37.9% occupancy rate. Total room revenue is also up just under 21% for the year compared to the same period last year. On the flip side, at this point in 2019, Grand Forks was at a 55.6% occupancy rate.
Julie Rygg, executive director of Visit Greater Grand Forks, said that while occupancy rebounds from last year, there is still a long way to go before Grand Forks sees consistent occupancy rates rivaling those years before the pandemic.
“Last year we were at a different point,” Rygg said. “Obviously we’re still in the pandemic, but we’re seeing more events happening, more people traveling. We live in a car market a lot, so a lot of people travel here for a long weekend or a few days, but on the other hand, we always find that the border is still closed to Canadians entering, and we always see an impact for that.
Rygg said that while the Delta variant does not have a serious negative impact on the hospitality industry in the future, it will still take time for the number of occupancies to steadily increase to the level it was before COVID. -19.
“We expect everything to bounce back, but it will definitely take time,” said Rygg. “Unfortunately, it’s not a switch. If the switch turned on again, everything was back to normal.