CLEVELAND — If the draft is a time for football fans to get excited about teams that haven’t even taken the field yet, then the NFL Draft weekend is a time for Kimpton Schofield Hotel Director of Sales and Marketing Jordan Nye to get excited about the business it’ll bring in.
“The hotel industry was hit pretty hard,” said Nye, referring to drops related to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Probably the hardest of all the private industry.”
Business travel dropped to almost nothing for most of 2020 and weekend leisure travel saw major declines as well. That meant hotel occupancy and room rates plunged across the city, forcing hotels to furlough large parts of their staff.
In 2019, Downtown Cleveland Alliance’s 2020 Annual Report showed the downtown hospitality market maintained a 67% occupancy with an average daily room rate of $152.90.
In 2020, with roughly the same number of rooms available for visitors, occupancy dropped to 27.8%, with an average daily room rate of $119.
Hilton Cleveland Downtown General Manager Teri Agosta says the hospitality industry is largely throwing out the data from 2020 and measuring success in 2021 of their 2019 numbers. Her hope is that bookings through the second half of 2021 remain strong so that staffing levels can stay where they are.
“I saw somebody today who was like, ‘I thought I was going to be off for a few months,” said Agosta. “I was off for over a year.”
Nye says regional weekend travel is climbing back, allowing hotels to bring back staff and reopen. The Schofield completely shut down for a few months at the start of the pandemic and used the time to refurbish parts of the building for its reopening.
“Microweddings, just people wanted to get out of town, do a stay-cation, and still experience downtown in a safe way,” said Nye.
Months of falling occupancy rates meant that the NFL Draft was a date the hospitality industry in Cleveland had circled on the calendar.
“This is only the third. Public event since COVID,” said Agosta. “We’ve had the Super Bowl, March Madness, and now we have the NFL Draft.”
“We’re on the international stage so I think to showcase our city, the hotels, the restaurants, and I think being able to do it safely is. going to be the biggest thing,” said Nye.
Destination Cleveland tells News 5 it expects hotel occupancy to be around 80% when the NFL Draft is in Cleveland with some hotels even selling out. That’ll help the hotels and all the businesses that have struggled nearby.
“The more people that come down here, the more it’s going to trickle through the entire downtown, whether that’s the restaurants, the breweries, the hotels,” said Nye.
When they venture out, those visitors will find volunteers like Kelley and Meghan Zidonis, who have weathered COVID, are excited about the NFL Draft, and are excited their downtown region has a chance to come back.
“We need it,” said Kelley. “Cleveland needs it, everybody needs it.”
When it’s all over, NFL teams will leave with their new draft picks, and the hope is that visitors leave with a hankering to do it all over again.
“Get reminded of how much fun it is to travel and get reminded how much fun it is to be at these events,” said Agosta.
“Maybe fans from other cities will be like, ‘Yeah, that trip to Cleveland is worth it.”
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