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Kansas City’s Biggest Hotel Is The Latest To Lay Off Workers Amid The COVID-19 Pandemic

061620_marriott downtown3.jpg_kyle palmer
Kyle Palmer
The Kansas City Marriott Downtown at 200 W. 12th St.

Hotels throughout metro Kansas City have been hit hard as meetings and conventions are canceled due to the pandemic and government-ordered lockdowns.

The area’s biggest hotel, the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, has joined the growing list of hotels laying off, furloughing or cutting the hours of employees because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a WARN Act notification last week, the hotel’s owner, the Kansas City Hotel Group LLC, said 280 employees were affected by the moves, which began around March 20 and have now been extended beyond its initial six-month duration.

“The challenges posed by COVID-19, as well as the ongoing government directives, however, have continued to expand and be extended, and have required or encouraged people to remain in place, resulting in restriction of business, large gatherings and business/personal travel,” the notification reads. “Further these challenges have caused a sudden, severe and worsening downturn in the travel and hospitality industry that now makes it reasonably foreseeable that the Temporary Actions will likely be extended beyond six (6) months.”

The Marriott has 970 rooms and suites, making it the biggest hotel in the metropolitan area. Kevin Pistilli, president of the Rafael Hotel Group, which manages the hotel, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Kansas City Marriott briefly reopened two weeks ago after shutting down for a couple of months. Pistilli said at the time that it was running “a very low occupancy.”

“There’s not a lot of movement going on around the country and people traveling,” Pistilli said. “We’ll come back. We just don’t know when.”

The layoffs come shortly after the manager of two other big area hotels managed by the Marriott Corp., the Westin Crown Center and the Sheraton Crown Center, collectively laid off, furloughed or cut the hours of nearly 500 employees, as the hotel industry continues to reel from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two hotels in Crown Center have 1,441 rooms combined and, like all big hotels that rely on conventions and meetings for a big chunk of their business, were hit hard by the cancellation of those meetings and conventions because of the pandemic and government-ordered lock-downs.

Both hotels are managed by the Marriott Corporation, the world’s biggest hotel chain. The company announced the actions, which it said were temporary and began in March, in WARN Act notifications it filed two weeks ago with the state and with Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas.

The WARN Act is a federal law that requires employers with 50 or more workers to provide advance notification to workers when they’re faced with a plant closing or mass layoff.

The notifications for the two Crown Center hotels came at around the same time the Sheraton Overland Park Hotel, the fourth largest hotel in the metro with 412 rooms, instituted temporary furloughs, layoffs and reductions in hours for 151 employees. The hotel adjoins the Overland Park Convention Center.

The Overland Park hotel said it had begun the actions on March 21 and initially expected them to last less than six months.

But like the Marriott downtown, it said the repeated extension of government lock-down orders restricting large gatherings and travel in general “have caused a sudden, severe and worsening downturn in the hospitality industry that now makes it reasonably foreseeable that these temporary actions may extend beyond six months.”

Jason Fulvi, president and CEO of Visit KC, said 96 meetings and conventions had been canceled this year due to the pandemic, costing the city an estimated $162 million in lost economic impact.

“Nobody has a crystal ball right now to say when conventions will come back,” Fulvi said. “When you look at the industry and read all the articles, listen to the interviews, some people are saying it will come back in the second quarter of next year. And some are saying things may not be full back to normal until 2022. It’s like the pandemic itself. It changes daily.”

Visit KC, formerly known as the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association, has furloughed nearly half its staff of about 45 people. A large portion of its $11 million budget, about 39%, comes from hotel lodging taxes.

Just a few blocks west of the two Crown Center Hotels, Union Station has seen 100% of its income from special events disappear overnight. The special events space closed its doors in mid-March and is getting ready to reopen on a limited basis to members this week.

“Summer is our big tourism time and we desperately need that,” said Union Station President and CEO George Guastello. “We’ve been working closely with the Sheraton and the Westin to try to find ways to put together packages to get people back to Kansas City.”

Guastello said he isn't expecting to see business rebound by more than 20% before the end of the year.

Both Guastello and Fulvi said they were working to promote Kansas City as a drive-time vacation destination.

“We feel that our region is positioned well for some of that market because of the attractions and offerings we have here,” Fulvi said. “So that’s where we’ll spend a lot of our energy.”

Amid the rash of hotel closings, layoffs and furloughs, Kansas City’s newest convention hotel, Loews Kansas City Hotel, opened its doors last week. What was originally planned as a high-profile ribbon-cutting affair in April instead turned into a decidedly low-key event.

“Given what has transpired over the past several weeks, our opening is going to look a little different than we originally anticipated,” Loews Hotels & Co. Chairman and CEO Jonathan Tisch said in a statement.

The 24-story hotel at 15th and Wyandotte streets, has 800 rooms.

Meanwhile, across the state, more than 1,400 hotel workers are scheduled to be laid off at a dozen St. Louis area hotels, according to a WARN Act notice filed by St. Louis-based Lodging Hospitality Management.

The company cited the COVID-19 pandemic “and its unforeseeable impact on our business.”

Besides the Sheraton and Westin hotels, other hotels in the Kansas City metro area and the number of employees they have laid off or furloughed include:

· Crossroads Hotel at 21st and Central streets in Kansas City, 151 employees

· Adams Mark Hotel at 9103 E. 39th St. in Kansas City, 138 employees

· Marriott Kansas City Country Club Plaza Hotel at 44th and Main streets in Kansas City, 114 employees

· Kansas City Embassy Suites at 7640 NW Tiffany Springs Parkway in Kansas City, 92 employees

· 21c Museum Hotel at 219 W. 9th St. in Kansas City, 18 employees

· Ameristar Casino Hotel at 3200 North Ameristar Drive in Kansas City, 578 employees

· Hilton Kansas City Airport Hotel at 8801 NW 112th St. in Kansas City, 86 employees

Updated: June 16, 2020 at 11:34 AM CDT
This story was updated from a previous post that was originally published on June 7.
Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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