Smith Travel Research and the UA Walton School of Business’ Walton Insights paint a grim picture for leisure, hospitality, recreation and personal services in the next 36 months to come thanks to COVID-19’s halt to business. The not unexpected data was presented at the special meeting of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau Friday morning, where CEO Gretchen Hall also provided figures on the agency’s budget, event cancelations and announced the April 6 closing of Ottenheimer Hall, the River Market’s food hall.
Sixty-four cancelations at the Statehouse Convention and Robinson Center of events ranging from March 12 to Nov. 15 represent a revenue loss of $593,000. Postponements total 68.
Walton Insight predicted losses of $245.7 million for 2020 in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Conway in sales in the four areas, $178.8 million from restaurants alone; Little Rock’s restaurants account for $111 million of the total. Losses in the hotel industry were predicted at $45.2 million, bar and club $6.4 million and personal services $1.6 million in sales. Taxes on hotels and restaurants fund the LRCVB, which expects to see a $5 million decline in revenue.
Smith expects that it will take six to eight weeks after shelter-in-place orders (in other states; Arkansas does not have one) are over for event size restrictions to lift. It is optimistic that the fourth quarter will see solid gains in travel.
Smith broke down restaurant losses since March 9 as follows: Casual dining dropped 77 percent, fast casual 57 percent, coffee shops 51 percent and fast food 34 percent. Governor Hutchinson did not order restaurants to close for seated dining until March 19.
Smith estimated a 36-month recovery to pre-COVID-19 levels, comparing to the 54 months after 9/11 and 48 months after the 2008/09 depression, the better number due to the stimulation bill and a sturdier economy.
LRCVB has furloughed 65 full-time employees, for a savings of $250,000 a month.