When hotels in the Charleston area started to temporarily close in March, not knowing how long the coronavirus pandemic would keep their doors shut, Hank Holliday saw an entrepreneurial opportunity.
The longtime Planters Inn owner decided that the shutdown presented a rare chance to get some projects done while the hotel was empty.
“The competitive juices kicked in, and I saw that we could reopen with a brand new, squeaky-clean hotel,” said Holliday, who has owned the hotel since 1994 when he bought it out of Federal Bankruptcy Court.
So, while Americans sheltered in their homes, and the nearby City Market remained shuttered, Holliday and his staff refurbished the hotel’s antique pine floors and had the detailing in the lobby repainted.
Air conditioning units were swapped out, duct work was replaced and employees “meticulously took the kitchen apart” for a deep cleaning, Holliday said.
While most lodgings in the state started to reopen between late May and June, the Planters Inn and its popular Peninsula Grill restaurant stayed closed while the improvements were being done.
Both are set to reopen Thursday.
The Planters Inn and its popular Peninsula Grill are set to reopen to the public Thursday, September 3, 2020. During the 6-months closed due to the coronavirus pandemic the owner took the time to get renovations done including restraining the wood floors. Brad Nettles/Staff
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“We didn’t see the need to reopen in the heat of the summer,” Holliday said.
The hotel didn’t miss out on much. While stronger-than-anticipated interest around Memorial Day made some operators optimistic about a uptick in tourism later in the season, rising COVID-19 numbers in July quelled those hopes, and hotel occupancy has remained well below normal normal levels.
Being closed for so long was a “monumental task” in and of itself, Holliday said. Everything planned for those six months had to be cleared from their schedule, which came out to $5 million worth of room reservations, private dining plans and bookings for corporate groups.
Holliday said they have set their expectations “extremely low” for the rest of the year.
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“Occupancy will be low this fall, and we’re planning for that,” he said.
South Carolina hotels have been filling just about half of their rooms. And after 16 consecutive weeks of the Palmetto State’s lodgings outpacing the national average for occupancy, that changed for the figures that came in last week, which put the state at 48 percent and the U.S. at 49 percent.
Reservations for the restaurant have been coming in at a faster pace than new bookings for the hotel, Holliday said, thanks in part to a base of local fans who were among the first to reserve tables.
Some regulars called to say hadn’t been out to eat in five months, but were breaking that streak to come to the AAA-Four Diamond-rated spot, Holliday said. Capacity inside the restaurant has been reduced by half so the tables can be properly spaced apart, but seats have been added outdoors.
Signs will be posted at the property this week letting customers know that they have a “no mask, no entry” policy, Holliday said. A face covering will be provided if guests didn’t bring one.
The hotel is taking many other coronavirus-related precautions that have been adopted at other local lodgings.
Rooms will stay empty for at least 24 hours between stays, and guests are strongly encouraged to forego cleaning services during their trip. Instead, fresh towels would be left at their door, sanitized and wrapped in plastic.
The Planters Inn and its popular Peninsula Grill are set to reopen to the public Thursday, September 3, 2020. During the 6-months closed due to the coronavirus pandemic the owner took the time to get renovations done and added safety measures to keep customers and staff safe. Brad Nettles/Staff
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In addition to the touch-ups and redone floors, guests will also notice new clear plastic shields hanging in front of the check-in desk.
While Holliday said he doesn’t expect hoteliers to turn a profit in the near future, but he is optimistic about Charleston’s chances compared to other domestic destinations.
“I think Charleston, as an established, upscale tourism destination, will be among the first cities — if not the first city — to recover,” Holliday said.