On July 15, 2020, the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) hosted the Newsmaker Speaker Series: The State of Hospitality and Tourism.
Top industry experts discussed the challenges experienced due to the coronavirus pandemic, re-opening of venues, and what steps need to be taken to return Baltimore to its position as a top tourist destination and to provide recovery assistance to attractions, restaurants and hotels.
Al Hutchinson, President & CEO of Visit Baltimore; Jim Kinney, Managing Partner of The Capital Grille; John Racanelli, President & CEO of the National Aquarium; and Juan Webster, General Manager of Sagamore Pendry Baltimore participated in the conversation, which was moderated by GBC President & CEO Donald C. Fry.
In his opening statements, Fry said, “Perhaps no industry has been hit harder than the hospitality and tourism industry that relies heavily on travel and social gatherings.”
The panelists started the conversation by noting the impact the pandemic had on their operations and the unfortunate reality of layoffs or furloughs. They also mentioned that they had several new expenses due to complying with safety measures and “following the science,” as Racanelli said. However, they agreed that the situation had forced them to have an all-hands-on-deck mentality and stretch their creativity.
“The pandemic has really decimated the travel and tourism industry here in Baltimore City as well as across the country. This pandemic is about 10 times worse than what 9/11 was. …This has been devastating,” said Hutchinson. “We will get through this and on the other side of the pandemic, we’re going to be stronger and better for it.”
Racanelli said he appreciated hearing that his fellow panelists were experiencing similar situations and noted that aquariums and zoos face a set of unique challenges. “Our operating expenses remain very high while closed because we have to take care of the animals,” Racanelli said.
Kinney said it’s critical that everyone in the industry supports each other. “Everything the other panelists do trickles down to the restaurant industry. So we’re thankful for them, too.”
Several of the speakers said they were pivoting their attentions and efforts to attracting more regional travelers, as opposed to those who would normally fly in from other locations.
“We can maximize by going more local and regional in our outreach” and go after travelers who can come to Baltimore from Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York, Hutchinson said. “We encourage people to come see us, visit our attractions, visit our restaurants and stay at our hotels.”
Webster added, “Since we re-opened our doors, the vast majority of our guests have been attributed to the local market. We have to be flexible, adaptable. Now more than ever, it’s so important to listen to our guests. Our goal is to still find a way to consistently deliver a great product and a great experience.”
Kinney said he’s seeing a “tremendous amount of people from the New Jersey and Philadelphia corridor. They feel comfortable here and we need to embrace that.”
When asked about lessons learned during the pandemic, Racanelli said, “Safety, service and no silos. We’re all doing our part to take care of people and make sure you’re following the science.”
Kinney added, “I’ve learned how much care you have to show every day. …Take pride in the work and the guest experience and realize what a gift it is that people are giving their trust to us in these trying times.”
“Our team has been encouraged to come closer together,” Webster said. “COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate. When we get through this, there’s going to be a special group of people who come out on top.”
As for the future of tourism in the region, Webster suggested continuing to ask “What can you do?” and explore how creative you can be. “We appreciate everyone out there who supports the local hospitality industry. Letting people know we’re here is critical.”
Hutchinson asked, “How can we continue to create the right story during this time period?” He said Visit Baltimore intends to promote the entire Baltimore region — not just the city. “We have to get out of our silo approach, be more nimble, more creative.”
Racanelli added that he is “cautious but optimistic about the rest of the year. The road to recovery will be a long one. We’ve been a significant part of the tourism fabric of this city for 40 years. I’m confident that we’re going to continue to be for the next 40 and we’ll get through this difficult time together.”
In thanking the panelists and reiterating how important the success of Baltimore’s tourism and hospitality industry is to the region, Fry urged attendees to “patronize our restaurants, hotels and attractions in the months ahead.”
Register for future Newsmaker Speaker Series events and other GBC activities here.
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