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With power out, hotel room vacancies disappear

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Sheena Luna, the assistant general manager at Groton Inn & Suites, sold the hotel’s last two rooms around noon Friday.

They might have been among the last available hotel rooms in the region, if not the state.

With tens of thousands of Connecticut residents still without electricity in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias, which hit Tuesday, and out-of-state utility workers arriving to help restore power, demand for hotel rooms has outstripped the supply — a supply that fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has shrunken a bit. 

“Eversource workers took our last rooms,” Luna said. “We’re sold out for tonight and tomorrow, as well. Definitely, the storm’s a big part of it. I’d say about 40% of our guests are utility workers and the other 60% are displaced locals. I feel terrible for these people who don’t have power. It’s unfortunate, but I’m happy to be able to provide a room. ... It’s been slow.”

Before the storm, Luna said, the occupancy rate at the 100-room Groton Inn & Suites at 99 Gold Star Highway had been around 26% since it reopened to leisure travelers June 17 in the second phase of Gov. Ned Lamont’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Soon after the power went out this week, occupancy shot to 100%.

“Power failures are amazing things,” said Terry Connors, the general manager of the Howard Johnson Inn at 253 Greenmanville Ave., Mystic. “We’ve been booked up since Tuesday.”

Connors said the smallish, 77-room hotel had gotten calls from all over the state and had rented rooms to locals and some tourists who had decided to stay in the area longer than they originally planned due to the power outage. The hotel had no rooms available for utility workers.

“A weekend in August in Mystic is still busy,” Connors said.

Johan Liebenberg, the Hilton Mystic’s general manager, said the sudden demand for the hotel’s rooms was more than it could handle. He said he’s been struggling to bring back enough staff to reopen all of the hotel’s 184 rooms, only 110 of which have been in service.

On Friday, he said he was talking to Eversource officials who were looking to book 2,000 rooms in the area.

“It’s been hard for us to keep up because of staffing,” Liebenberg said. “When we suspended operations (due to COVID-19), we had 84 staff on. I had to furlough 80, and it’s impossible to get them all to come back because of the stimulus payments and fear of COVID-19.”

Liebenberg was expecting the arrival Friday of new cleaning equipment that would enable the hotel to quickly return rooms to service once they’ve been vacated.

Brendan Saunders, director of sales and marketing at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell and a candidate for state Senate in the 33rd District, said the hotel hadn't been this busy since the pandemic shut things down.

"Everybody's scrambling and everybody needs rooms, so it’s a nice little bounty in the midst of what’s been a desert," he said.

Saunders said the hotel guests were a mix of out-of-state utility workers and people who lost power and might just want a hot shower. With Eversource’s Connecticut headquarters located nearby, he said the hotel has a good, year-round relationship with the company and that they were in touch as the storm approached.

He said the hotel accommodated Eversource first and then serviced the public. By Wednesday, the hotel was booked up.

The Connecticut Lodging Association, which surveyed hotels around the state, compiled an ever-shrinking list of those with rooms available.

“The state is virtually full,” Ginny Kozlowski, the association’s executive director, said Friday afternoon. “Some don’t have power, and not all hotels have opened all their rooms. But they’re doing everything they can to accommodate out-of-state crews as well as people who don’t have power. We haven’t seen anything like this since Sandy and Irene.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

e.moser@theday.com

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