Rental companies, hotels see big losses without fans

Alexander Plant | @aplant63, Sports Editor

To the surprise of almost no one, Tuscaloosa rental properties have suffered a huge blow due to both COVID-19 and the changing of UA’s football season. 

Kim Roberts is the owner of Bama Bed and Breakfast and the manager of Bama B&B Rentals, which manages over 50 properties and is Tuscaloosa’s only gameday property manager. Since the pandemic began in early March, Roberts said that business has been devastatingly low. 

Monetary losses for Roberts began when the pandemic forced the cancelation of UA commencement ceremonies, she said.

“May graduation is like a peak football weekend,” Roberts said. “We refunded hundreds of thousands of dollars in reservations.”

With the so-called new normal of the pandemic, small businesses like Bama B&B Rentals had to evolve. Roberts said that when Tuscaloosa’s COVID-19 numbers began to rise at DCH, there were a decent number of traveling nurses that came to their aid. Bama B&B Rentals were able to provide housing to the visiting healthcare workers, as they had almost all of their bookings canceled or unfilled throughout most of the summer.

After a small uptick in bookings during the middle of August due to students moving back with helpful parents in tow, Bama B&B Rentals looked forward to their last chance to earn some of their catastrophic losses back: football season. Roberts said that the change of Alabama football’s schedule had little to no effect on the bookings because they were able to shift them to that particular day, but the reduction of fans was what sent her hopes plummeting.

“We were hanging on by our fingernails, praying that [UA] was going to go forward with football season,” Roberts said. “When [the University] announced the reduction, we lost everything. Every single reservation, hundreds of reservations canceled. It felt like we were getting hit in the stomach, it felt like we were going back to March and April.”

To try and recoup some of the canceled reservations, Bama B&B Rentals has lowered its prices, but the company hasn’t seen booking numbers bounce back like they hoped. There are currently only about 25 bookings for football season so far.

Roberts believes that the decisions that were made about reducing capacity at Bryant Denny Stadium and not allowing tailgating on the Quad played a major role in the wrecking of small businesses for the fall. 

“The capacity was much more reduced than anybody had anticipated,” Roberts said. “I had told guests that we hoped the University would come up with a plan B for all of those people that wanted to come into town. We were so hopeful that the University would be in partnership with the city, because we’re here and we support the University. It was a stunning decision on all levels and it has been devastating to all small businesses in Tuscaloosa.”

The one upper hand that Bama B&B Rentals has over larger hotels is that guests have told Roberts they feel more comfortable at a smaller venue, as they will most likely come into contact with fewer people. That same message has been relayed to Adrian Cleckler-Collins who is the assistant to the director and project manager for the Tuscaloosa Parks and Recreation Authority (PARA), which al. 

“You would’ve thought there would be less [bookings], but what we found out was that people [like the smaller, isolated venue],” Clecker-Collins said. “People are coming to the treehouse because it’s private, it’s clean and you don’t have a bunch of people stuffed up in a hotel. 

PARA only rents one property, a treehouse located off of New Watermelon Road. Compared to Tuscaloosa’s popular hotels, the treehouse is uniquely secluded. While Bama B&B Rentals may not have rentals stowed away in the forest, PARA joins them in the exclusive club of Tuscaloosa landlords with more private accommodations to offer. Still, Roberts said, profits are down.

“The Bed and Breakfast is still down by 50%,” Roberts said. “When you compare our statistics to hotels, like [Hotel] Indigo, our percentages are slightly better than their percentages.”

Roberts added that renting directly through the company rather than through third-party management companies like Airbnb saves both the customer and owner money.