CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Hotel employees have suffered setbacks as the pandemic forced the hotel industry into a crisis. But some were given help in ways they never saw coming.
Travel came to an abrupt and unexpected halt when the pandemic started earlier this year. In Champaign County, hotels closed or cut back staff to skeleton crews with thousands of jobs lost or furloughed because of slow business. Visit Champaign County raised money to give to people affected by this so they could pay their bills in the meantime.
Empty hotel hallways, vacant rooms, and silent lobbies became the normal nobody in the hotel industry expected to see. Some hotels closed temporarily because people weren’t booking rooms during the pandemic. Other hotels stuck it out and stayed open. But months of plummeting occupancy pushed general managers to either lay off their employees or cut back hours.
John Hammond, General Manager at Candlewood Suites in Champaign, had to tell some of his staff they couldn’t work their full forty hours. Cindy Hardin was one of them. She said, “I was cut down to three days one week and four days the next.” This was devastating for her. “When you have rent $700 a month and car payments $300 a month, it’s just a lot.”
She got behind on payments, struggling to keep up with bills. But at just the right time, Visit Champaign County created the hospitality relief fund. $12,000 was given to housekeepers, caterers, cooks, and other hotel staff who needed it. Hardin is one of 42 people given $250 each. “I cried. You know, it meant so much that words couldn’t even express how much I was grateful for it,” said Hardin.”
As Hammond stepped in to work at the front desk, still filling in for gaps in employee hours, he said the same. “I was so appreciative of that and my staff was too. With the way the pandemic is going, that was just a feel good situation to happen.”
The hotel industry in Chamapign County is on the upswing. Many hotels have been able to rehire some of those furloughed employees. But there are still some who have lost their jobs entirely.