Sunday, December 5, 2021
Dec. 5, 2021

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Clark County businesses bracing for virus impact

Some cancel travel while others see reservations pulled, shipments delayed

By , Columbian Innovation Editor

The impact of COVID-19 on Clark County’s business community remains mild, according to business leaders, but they say that could change if the virus gains a foothold in the county.

Businesses are continuing to see delays on shipments from China, while the hospitality industry is beginning to see an uptick in reservation cancellations as businesses rethink employee travel.

Rick Takach, chairman and CEO of Vesta Hospitality, a Vancouver-based firm that owns or operates hotels in 14 states and Canada, said some large groups from other states are canceling reservations at his hotels. One 50-room reservation for an upcoming weekend was canceled because of the spreading virus.

It could be “the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

But overall, Takach said there’s not much of a change in business right now. Hotel franchises are reacting by calling Vesta to reaffirm their cancellation policies and their cleaning policies, he said.

At the one local hotel owned by Vesta, The Homewood Suites by Hilton Vancouver-Portland, a few people have canceled their reservations because of the virus, Takach said.

“It’s not much yet,” he said. “It’s pretty small and sporadic at the moment. We’re just starting to see maybe some lost revenue.”

Scott Bailey, the regional economist for Southwest Washington, said hotel cancellations will “probably get more common until there is a turning point.”

“That could be in weeks or months,” he said. “It’s way too early to characterize what’s going on.”

Vesta, like many large companies, has insurance for loss of business. But room cancellations won’t be insured unless the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declares the virus more of an emergency, he said.

Vesta Hospitality broke ground on the AC Hotel by Marriott at The Waterfront Vancouver in August. Takach said builders are starting to see some small delays with supplies delivered from China, mostly furniture and fixtures. But there’s no delay in the development’s progress.

Travel cancellations

Vesta is holding its annual company meeting with 80 employees in San Diego in early April, and there’s no plan to change that now.

“I’m more worried about overreaction than anything else,” Takach said. “However, we’re keeping a very close eye on it.”

But some large-scale businesses with employees who travel internationally are refraining from travel because of COVID-19.

Clyde Holland, chairman of Vancouver-based Holland Partner Group, said the real estate investment company canceled all international and non-essential business travel, all conferences and training for his 750-plus employees.

“We’re doing the best thing we can do to maintain health, safety of teammates and their families,” he said.

Holland said the virus has likely caused minor delays in development progress, which might include the Block 10 development near Esther Short Park, but he said it’s too soon to tell.

“We know things have slowed,” he said. “We just don’t know how much. That will become much more evident with time.”

Holland said the company’s supply lines won’t be affected in 2020 because the company has carefully planned its sourcing, but other developers are seeing delays in materials and supplies.

Bailey said the most vulnerable people, if they’re quarantined for two weeks with the virus’s symptoms, are laborers who don’t have sick leave. That also applies to lower-wage workers with fewer protections.

He said he expects no changes to the restaurant industry in the immediate future. While workers in the food industry are following routine — or most likely elevated — safety protocols, he doesn’t see people staying home to eat out of fear of the virus spreading. However, it’s on people’s minds, as seen by sold-out bread shelves at Costco, he said.

“Just seeing what’s happening in East Asian cities, you reach a point where everybody stays home. I don’t think we’re near that yet,” he said. “In two weeks, we could look back and say we ducked that one, we could be saying we don’t know what will happen, or we could be saying that it was the worst case.”