Coronavirus and Meetings
to see Northstar Meetings Group’s comprehensive and continuing coverage of how coronavirus is affecting meetings.
Updated May 26, 2020, 12:30 p.m. EDT.
Hospitality is among the industries hit hardest by the coronavirus. Travel restrictions and plummeting occupancy rates have forced hotels across the nation to temporarily shut down and lay off a majority of their workforces. Even as properties begin to reopen, industry leaders say it will be a long road to recovery.
Relief efforts have been quickly sprouting up to help those impacted by the pandemic. The Above and Beyond Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to recognizing and rewarding front-line hospitality workers, has launched a fundraising effort to provide relief to the unemployed. Since April, the foundation has collected more than $250,000 in donations, all of which is being distributed to lower-level hospitality workers who have lost their jobs.
"There are all these hardworking, unsung heroes in our industry," said Mary Jo Valentine Blythe, founder and CEO of TAABF. "We have so much recognition for the executive-level people in hospitality, but there really isn't anything for all these individuals who are at the base level and on the front lines. This came on so quickly that a lot of them, who live paycheck to paycheck, were left blindsided and without jobs."
Donations have poured in from across the country. Most recently, Drury Hotels senior vice president and chief operating officer Eric Strand committed to running the 237-mile Katy Trail along the Mississippi River to raise awareness for the Helping Hospitality initiative. In just a few days, he raised nearly $40,000. Donations are still being accepted and can be submitted here.
All funds are being used to issue $500 grants to those in need. More than 200 grants have been distributed already, and the organization expects to reach 500 grants in the coming weeks. Stories from those who have received money from TAABF and the impact it has had can be found here.
"This is helping a lot of people in the hospitality industry who don't have anywhere to turn," said Blythe. "A lot of people can't even get unemployment, so this is one of their only avenues for assistance... We don't see this ending anytime soon, so we'll keep processing the grants as long as we get donations. Every time we get $500, we give $500."
To receive funds, hospitality industry employers must submit their former employees for consideration. Up to 10 people can be nominated per location. Grants are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. All submission are vetted by the foundation.
"I believe it is our responsibility as an industry to come together and give back during this critical time," said TAABF board member Tony Lorenz, founder and CEO of HeadSail, an industry consulting firm. "We have relied on these hard-working people to support our events throughout our careers -- the housekeepers, waiters, drivers, cooks and others who make our industry possible. It is time to support them in some way. Incredible front-line individuals in our industry are hurting much more than we ever will."
TAABF has already received more than $1 million in nomination requests. To continue providing aid to hospitality workers in need in the weeks and months to come, TAABF is calling on people to donate whatever they can.
"The current situation is greatly affecting individuals who are the backbone of our industry," said Lynn Pavony, director of incentive sales at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and a member of the TAABF board. "It is imperative that we all work together to support them and their families amid this challenging time. The Above and Beyond Foundation is a turnkey avenue to do this and encourage everyone to both donate -- no amount is too small -- and spread the word on this opportunity to recognize those many shining stars in the hospitality industry."