Jobless toll mounts as hotels furlough, eateries close

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 24, 2020 2:59 PM CT | Published: March 24, 2020 4:00 AM CT

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Coronavirus has left the Memphis tourist industry “in shambles” and thrown at least 35,000 people out of work so far, the city’s tourism chief said Monday.

Memphis Tourism president and chief executive Kevin Kane made the statements after city officials again ratcheted down the ability of people to move around the city.

Kane said he was “conservatively” estimating 75% of restaurant and hotel workers were temporarily out of work and candidates for unemployment benefits.

A state Department of Labor and Workforce Development spokesman said a weekly tally of statewide joblessness wouldn’t be available until Friday.

Meanwhile, hotels including The Peabody and The Guesthouse at Graceland were operating with bare-bones staffing after furloughing employees.

The Memphis job actions came as national chains started furloughs that are expected to run into the hundreds of thousands.

“I think we’re north of 35,000 tourism and hospitality employees who are laid off today,” Kane said.

“The hospitality industry is in shambles. We’ve never seen hotels with 10% occupancy or less. We’ve seen restaurants shutting down en masse,” Kane said.

Tourism is responsible for about $3.5 billion in direct spending in Memphis and Shelby County and employs more than 50,000. The larger region including North Mississippi and eastern Arkansas lists about 69,000 hospitality industry employees.

A new study done for the American Hotel and Lodging Association by Oxford Economics projected 44% of hotel employees nationally have lost their jobs or will lose them in coming weeks.

The study forecast 17,744 hotel employees in Tennessee would be out of work temporarily, among 65,870 in hotel-supported job losses in the state.

Kane said there were “very few” visitors still in the city and Monday’s shelter-in-place order from the city, dubbed Safer at Home, would “probably lock people even deeper inside their homes.”

The Memphis tourist attraction Graceland and the adjoining hotel in Whitehaven furloughed an undisclosed number of employees after Graceland temporarily closed due to coronavirus.

Elvis Presley Enterprises announced Friday it was closing the attraction at least from Saturday, March 21 through April 3. The 450-room hotel remained open Monday.

The 464-room Peabody also furloughed hourly employees. A hotel spokeswoman told the Memphis Business Journal temporary layoffs had reduced staff from 600 to 100.

Wayne Tabor, president of the Metropolitan Memphis Hotel and Lodging Association, said he expected all local hotels to furlough employees if they hadn’t done so already.

Nationally, Hilton Corp. announced a program to assist workers from temporarily suspended hotel jobs in finding work in short-term jobs created by the pandemic.

Hilton said furloughed employees would be “given direct access and in some cases expedited access” to jobs with companies that need workers to combat coronavirus, including Albertsons, Amazon, CVS, Lidl, Sunrise Senior Living and Walgreens.

Kane said some of the larger hotels including The Peabody and Guest House at Graceland filled out unemployment paperwork for employees, but smaller hotels were letting employees handle it themselves.

Kane said his organization was trying to get a grip on what programs might be available to aid small businesses as part of a proposed coronavirus financial stimulus package that Congress is considering.

For the time being, hotels remained open, serving a fraction of their capacities.

Kane didn’t think that would last if restrictions on movement of people continue in force for an extended time.


travel and tourism coronavirus hotel industry Memphis Tourism
Wayne Risher

Wayne Risher

Business news reporter, 43-year veteran of print journalism, 35-year resident of Memphis, University of Georgia alumnus and proud father and spouse of University of Memphis graduates.


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