The impact of “stay home, stay safe” on Asheville’s hotel industry

TEMPORARY CLOSURE: The Omni Grove Park Inn has temporarily suspended its operations in compliance with Buncombe County’s “stay home, stay safe” mandate. Other hotels in the area plan to remain open. Photo by Thomas Calder

The Omni Grove Park Inn waved goodbye to its last guest this morning. The historic hotel, in business since 1913, will now temporarily suspend its operations in the face of Buncombe County’s “stay home, stay safe” mandate, which goes into effect today at 8 p.m.

The shutdown is not a first for the inn. Newspaper accounts show the property regularly closed during the winter months throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Renovations have also led to past closures. And according to local author and historian Bruce Johnson, the federal government leased the hotel during World War II. However, the property remained operational during World War I and the 1918 influenza.

In a press release, The Biltmore Co. also announced plans to temporarily close “all guest experiences and access to gardens and grounds” at 5 p.m. today. Plans to reopen will be announced at a later date. For more, visit avl.mx/71c.

According to the Buncombe County mandate, all lodging facilities are required to close except those that provide one of the following services: “work-related accommodations, facilities housing persons experiencing homelessness and any facility being used for isolation and quarantine purposes.”

Visitors who checked into hotels in the county prior to the “stay home, stay safe” declaration are not required to vacate; however, they are not prohibited from leaving the county, either.

“We will assess potential timelines to reopen as circumstances evolve,” writes Susan Rotante, public relations director at The Omni Grove Park Inn, in an email exchange with Xpress.

Other hotels plan to remain open. McKibbon Hospitality, a Tampa-based company that counts the AC Hotel Asheville Downtown and Kimpton Hotel Arras among its properties, will continue accepting reservations for individuals in need of work-related accommodations, as well as paid guests seeking to quarantine in isolation, says Lauren Bowles, McKibbon’s vice president of communications. The company also manages the Aloft Asheville Downtown, which temporarily closed prior to the March 25 mandate in the face of high cancellation rates. Currently, McKibbon Hospitality does not intend to use vacant rooms in any of its three hotels to house residents experiencing homelessness.

Bowles says McKibbon has protocols in place to keep those who may arrive with the virus away from non-infected guests. “They will not be able to use any of the public spaces … [and] we will send someone to deliver things to their room,” she explains.

McKibbon Hospitality laid off over 1,000 employees throughout its 82 properties, which operate in 32 cities across eight states. Former employees, however, are receiving a biweekly check from the company for $200 over the next three months, in addition to state unemployment benefits and possible federal relief. To learn more, visit avl.mx/71b.

“We’re just hoping to get through this sooner than later and bring back as many workers as we’re able to,” says Bowles. “It’s tough. And it’s especially tough for the Asheville market with as many local businesses and restaurants that the city has. It’s just very sad.”

Xpress reached out to management at several other local hotels as well as Jim Muth, executive director of the Asheville Buncombe Hotel Association. At press time, these individuals had not responded to Xpress’ request for comment on the current health crisis and its impact on the city’s hotel industry.

Original story updated on March 27 to reflect McKibbon Hospitality’s intended services during the county mandate. 

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

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