Tessa Peterson has become accustomed to working at the front desk at The Hoxton over the last year, balancing that role with her job as the Portland hotel’s general manager. Its restaurant manager has similarly stepped in to wait tables at Tope, the only restaurant at the Old Town hotel currently open.

They’ve had to fill in ever since the hotel laid off more than 70% of its staff as restaurants closed and tourism plummeted early in the coronavirus pandemic.

Leisure travel has slowly started to rebound and the hotel is planning to hire back staff in anticipation of increased travel this summer. But only about 50% to 70% of the hotel’s rooms are filled on weekends, and the occupancy rate can drop as low as 10% during the week.

Before the pandemic, The Hoxton typically filled 9 out of every 10 rooms. Peterson believes it will take years for occupancy to rebound to pre-pandemic levels, especially if business travel is slow to return.

And even as tourism picks up, she and other hoteliers worry that travelers may avoid the central city if officials don’t act quickly to clean up downtown and repair the reputational damage that Portland suffered in the aftermath of last summer’s civil rights protests.

“I’m optimistic when I’m looking at 2021 compared to 2020,” Peterson said. “There’s hope. It’s not all doom and gloom, which is the first time in probably 12 months I’ve felt that way. … But I think there’s still a lot of trepidation about whether downtown is a safe place to be and I think that’s going to impact tourism.”

Tourists slow to return to Portland

The number of people seeking hotel rooms in Oregon plummeted in the early days of the pandemic. That nosedive was particularly acute in Portland where occupancy plunged by more than 80%.

Tourism has rebounded significantly in much of the state, especially in areas close to Oregon’s outdoor attractions.

During the last week of February, hotel occupancy in Southern Oregon was actually up 29% from the same period a year ago — just before the pandemic hit — according to data from Travel Oregon. Occupancy was up 8.6% on the Oregon coast for the same week in February.

In Portland, though, travelers have been slow to return.

Portland hotels averaged 35% occupancy in February, down 47% from the year prior, according to Travel Portland, which promotes the city’s tourism industry.

Downtown Portland and the surrounding area continued to suffer the most with hotels in the central city averaging 25.5% occupancy, down nearly 63% from the year prior. Occupancy rates in the central city increased only slightly in March, according to preliminary estimates.

Those occupancy rates don’t take into account hotels that remain closed. There were 15% fewer hotel rooms available citywide and nearly 23% fewer rooms available in downtown Portland in February as compared to a year prior.

Those that were open were making significantly less per room with the city’s average daily room rate down