The Little Rock convention industry’s coronavirus symptoms boil down to a three-word news flash: All events postponed.
With revenue at downtown hotels off by nearly two-thirds in March, the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau reported that as of Friday nearly three dozen spring gatherings expecting 25,000 attendees have been put off at the Statehouse Convention Center and Robinson Center through early May.
Seven of those attractions involve more than 2,800 room-nights of bookings at local hotels, with a partial economic impact calculated at nearly $1.2 million.
March numbers at downtown Little Rock hotels plunged 65% across the board in March from the same month’s results last year, according to Gretchen Hall, the LRCVB’s president and CEO. Lodging figures outside the downtown ZIP code sank 35%.
ATA’s Rock City Regionals Class A taekwondo tournament originally set April 24-25 tops the list of postponements by count of room bookings, with 750 room-nights delayed. The tournament has been rescheduled May 29-30. Next is the Travel Nurse Across America convention, which had been set May 2-4 with 464 room-nights, now rescheduled for early November.
Hall told Arkansas Business that she’s sending out weekly updates to partners, “trying to provide as much helpful information as possible.”
In her latest update, she called the industry resilient, but warned that “the road to recovery still has a lot of unknowns at this time.”
She said her first priority was providing alternative dates for as many groups as possible. “We are seeing a re-book rate of about 60%,” she added, noting that sales and operations teams continue to work hard as plans evolve.
“Additionally, our marketing team is working to develop and push local messages regarding ‘support local businesses,’ especially our restaurant, attraction and hotel partners,” Hall wrote in a message to partners. “We are asking that everyone share these messages on their individual social channels to help spread the word regarding businesses that are open and providing take-out and delivery services. We are trying to track all of that here, https://www.littlerock.com/covid-19-information.”
Kalene Griffith, CEO of Visit Bentonville, told Arkansas Business on Monday that canceled or postponed events cost the city $395,000 in March, and April is projected to see a $1.5 million hit.
Right now, three Bentonville hotels are closed: 21c, the Hilton Garden Inn and Element.
Griffith said most events are being rescheduled to the fall. But that’s causing a crunch among limited venues and hotel space.
“We have to be creative in our scheduling for the fall,” she said.
(Marty Cook contributed to this report.)