Hotels, tourism in The Woodlands feel pinch of canceled plans, social distancing

Fred Domenick, member of the Visit the Woodlands board of directors, discussed the effect of recent cancellations on The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center on March 18. (Screenshot via The Woodlands Township)
Fred Domenick, member of the Visit the Woodlands board of directors, discussed the effect of recent cancellations on The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center on March 18. (Screenshot via The Woodlands Township)

Fred Domenick, member of the Visit the Woodlands board of directors, discussed the effect of recent cancellations on The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center on March 18. (Screenshot via The Woodlands Township)

Canceled conferences, events and travel in The Woodlands area are shaping up to have potentially dire consequences for the area’s hospitality industry, officials said at a special meeting of the Visit the Woodlands board on March 18.

Visit the Woodlands, the township’s convention and visitors bureau, broadcast its meeting live on the township website.

The occupancy percentage at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center has dropped to the single digits, and layoffs have taken place, said Fred Domenick, the hotel’s general manager and secretary and treasurer of the VTW board of directors.

“The convention center is virtually shut down and will be barricaded off,” Domenick said. “Occupancy [is] in the single digits, 7%. ... We’ve laid off 120 employees, which is the first time in my 39-year history we’ve had to do that, and we’ve furloughed 50% of our management team until the end of May.”

Domenick said cost modeling for hotel closures nationwide indicates that closing the building would not be cost effective at this point, but after a three-month window that may become plausible if the situation continues.


Board Director Bruce Rieser, who is also the chair of Visit the Woodlands, said he had a recent call with United Airlines in which he learned the company expected a $1.5 billion loss in the past three weeks. Rieser previously worked in the airline industry, according to information on The Woodlands Township website.

“We’re talking about like it or not it’s going to be travel or hospitality that is going to take the brunt of the measures that are being implemented,” Rieser said. “We’re in for a rough ride for the balance of the year.”

Representatives from other business hubs in The Woodlands such as Market Street and The Woodlands Mall said few locations were operating as of March 18, with some restaurants offering curbside service. Events at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion are also canceled, postponed or rescheduled through the end of June.

The meeting also covered topics such as the postponement of the Memorial Hermann Ironman Texas North American Championship, which was set for April 25. A new date for the event has not yet been established.

VTW President Nick Wolda said The Woodlands Township board of directors had asked VTW to fund in-kind services for the competition in 2021-25. The township had previously provided in-kind services for some events with a high commercial value, but under a recent board of directors decision that funding will now be provided by VTW. In-kind services for the event amount to about $100,000, Rieser said.

The Ironman competition provides an economic benefit of about $13.5 million for The Woodlands, according to materials provided by VTW.

Although the date for the postponed competition has not yet been determined, officials said they were looking at October.

“No one knows what’s going to happen over the course of the next three months,” Rieser said. “Some events that are being postponed right now won’t come off this year.”

However, the Ironman competition is still expected to take place later in 2020, officials said.
By Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of that paper in March 2017 and editor of The Woodlands edition in January 2019.


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