Tourism board learns about the hotel industry in Albemarle/Charlottesville

Tourism is one of the region’s largest industries, and the pandemic has shown just how important the sector is to the municipal bottom line. Russ Cronberg has been general manager of the Boar’s Head Resort for the past five years.  He gave a presentation on October 25 to the Board of Directors of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau. The CACVB markets the region as a tourism destination and is funded by a portion of the transient lodging tax. 

“We have 3,891 hotel rooms roughly give or take a room or two in our market currently,” Cronberg said. “Our annual occupancy is around 65 percent.”

Cronberg said most hotels need between 50 percent and 60 percent occupancy in order to break even, so an average of 65 percent is a sign of health.  He said in a given year, over 1.8 million people stay in hotel rooms in the area.

“That is not timeshares, that’s not bed and breakfasts, it’s not our AirBnB’s,” Cronberg said. “That’s strictly just our hotel community.” 

In the year before the pandemic, Cronberg said hotels brought in nearly $14 million in revenue for Albemarle and around $9 million in Charlottesville. The sector is still slowly rebounding after a time when most travel stopped for a while, and the hotel industry lost millions. 

“Thankfully for many of the grant programs and other government funding that has helped, city funding, we’ve only lost two hotels to permanent closure but actually we have a couple more than are going to reopen,” Cronberg said. 

The labor shortage is affecting all sectors, including hospitality. Cronberg said the Boar’s Head over 90 job openings in September, forcing the resort to limit the number of guests. He acknowledged that low wages are part of the problem.

“One thing that I’m proud of that has come out of this is that it really has opened the eyes of ownership and maybe operators to really speed up the increases in our industry,” Cronberg said. “And I think it’s a really good thing to get back to more equitable wages.”

Cronberg said when he began at Boar’s Head in 2016, housekeepers were getting $8.50 an hour. That’s now been increased to $17 an hour. But to keep that going, the economy still has to make it through the pandemic.

“The current COVID environment has continued to provide [difficulties] to navigate, but we in the hotel industry have continued to remain flexible with the priority of security and safety of our team as well as our guests,” Cronberg said.

Cronberg said the Charlottesville will have to compete with other destinations around Virginia. 

“In order to do that, I really think and speaking with operators and other GMs and other hotel owners, we really have to look at the CACVB funding model. It’s not just giving the funding and saying thank you, here you go, but measuring those successes and making sure the thing we are doing are driving occupancy to our area, are driving tourism dollars into the arts and into the historical communities.” 

Later in the meeting, the CACVB discussed the possibility of changing the representation on the Board of Directors to include more representatives from the industry. Such a move would have to be approved by Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. Read more about that story in Allison Wrabel’s October 25, 2021 article in the Daily Progress

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the October 30, 2021 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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