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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Saturday, May 23, 2020 1 month ago

Hotel maintains 57-employee payroll through pandemic

Southwest Florida hotel makes good use of SBA loan funds.

Talk about a to-do list.

The operators of the Holiday Inn Fort Myers Airport at Town Center found good use for the downtime forced on them by the pandemic, when occupancy fell to 20% or less a night: they wrote a four-page list of projects, from power washing the building to stripping and waxing the floors. Even better? The hotel received federal Paycheck Protection Program loans in early April, so it kept all 57 employees on the payroll.  “We got (the money) within 10 days of the program starting,” says Brian Holly of Holly/Field Hospitality, and a hotel managing director. “Then we had to decide, ‘what are we going to do with them?’”

The answer, the hotel’s project to-do list, included deep cleaning all 169 rooms, shining more than 100 windows, the floor project, tidying up the lobby and more. Much of the work, Holly says, would have required subcontractors and taken significantly longer. “Our hotel looks as good as it did the day we cut the ribbon 10 years ago,” Holly tells Coffee Talk “It’s pristine.”

The hotel also used the downtime to do more things it couldn’t get to in the bustle of a busy season. Early on, for example, it set up continuing education programs, webinars and classes for front desk team members, sales and marketing teams and other guest service-related personnel. The hotel also partnered with Florida Gulf Coast University to bring in linguistics professors for Spanish-to-English and English-to-Spanish courses.

The hotel gave back to staff, too, including a drive-thru dinner, complete with live entertainment where it served nearly 150 meals to employees and their families. It also hosted a private commencement ceremony, honoring two employees graduating from FGCU and two team members with high school graduates at home.

While some hotels passed on PPP loans, due to the complications and stipulations, Holly believes the effort to keep everyone on the payroll will pay off in the long run. “Some hotels put profit first, others put guests first,” he says. “But we know if we take care of the employees, they will take care of the guests.”

Holly thinks those guests will be back soon, if not in droves, at least an uptick. The property now targets not just its typical business traveler, but Florida families looking for a nearby vacation destination. “I think we will see some robust growth,” later this summer, Holly says, “more than normal for Southwest Florida. I’m really optimistic we will get a good bounce.”



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