As coronavirus concerns cancel conventions, Chicago hospitality industry takes major financial hit

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The hospitality and restaurant industries have been among the hardest hit by novel coronavirus concerns, especially as conventions expecting to bring in tens of thousands of visitors.

The World Congress of Cardiologists was supposed to draw about 29,000 high dollar attendees to Chicago at the end of March, filling tens of thousands of hotel room sand pumping millions of dollars into the city's economy. So was the Inspired Home Show, put on by the International Housewares Association.

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Il Culaccino is an Italian restaurant just across the street from McCormick Place, and prime real estate for convention parties.

"You're waking up and seeing cancellations increasing, emails from the private events we have," said owner Frank Ruffalo. "You're looking at your reservation systems and seeing a lot of Xs."

"Those are the big spenders," said Ted Madigo, hotel consultant. "Those are the ones that reallymake the industry during conventisons."

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At least four conventions that would help line the pockets of restauranteurs, waiters, bartenders, and other service staff are also canceled, slashing hopes of night profits.

"Easily, for our projections, probably 60 to 70 percent,' said Ruffalo. "And that's just based off reservations we had. It's not going to be including any of the walk-ins we normally get, the increase in our bar business. So it's a pretty drastic hit."

Hotels are feeling the same pain.

"It's probably 500,000 room nights that we would lose, and that's out of somewhere around 5 million room nights that come into town for convention activities," Madigo said.

"If all this adds up enough to push the economy into recession then you'll see layoffs, potentially across all sectors of the economy as their revenues drop," said Andy Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

At Il Culaccino, COVID-19 convention cancellations may soon play out down the payroll.

"I might be cutting some of their hours by half. If I don't have the need for people to come in when I limit my capacity from 300 down to 120, that really negatively affects some of the people I have working for me," Ruffalo said.

Consultants also warn that other conventions that are still scheduled to go on could be drastically reduced by individual employer restrictions on travel.

So far, one consultant estimated Chicago's hotel industry will see about a 6 percent drop in occupancy.

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