TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – The construction of a new Walmart Distribution Center is one of very few things keeping Topeka hotels together.
From fewer cars in the parking lot, to fewer people in the lobby and fewer guests filling the rooms, Topeka hotels are taking a hard hit due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“At the beginning, the occupancy was, of course, we were low, low occupancy,” said Farid Elias, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn Topeka. “People were scared. They didn’t know what’s going on with the virus, how they can avoid it.”
Ten months later, it hasn’t gotten much better.
“About four hotels just completely shut their doors rather than try to weather through it,” said Kurt Young, executive director of the Topeka Lodging Association.
Despite people not vacationing in Topeka, they are traveling here for business.
“Topeka has a very diverse business industry, a very diverse travel market, which has created some resiliency for us compared to even some of our in-state competitors,” said Sean Dixon, president of Visit Topeka.
The city’s hotel tax collection has been 7% higher than the statewide collection, according to Dixon.
This has a lot to do with the construction of the 1.8 million square foot center in south Topeka, bringing hundreds of construction workers to the city.
“Has it made a noticeable difference in raising our occupancy? Not necessarily,” Young said. “But it has kept our occupancy maybe from completely bottoming out.”
The construction, along with events being planned for later in the year and vaccine distribution, is the light at the end of a very long tunnel for these hotel employees.
“I think there is big hope now,” Elias said. “It’s coming.”
It’s estimated the hotel industry will not return to the state it was in prior to the pandemic until 2023.