INTERNATIONAL REPORT—As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, companies have taken measures to minimize the effect it has on long-term operations. Here’s a look:
RLJ Lodging Trust
RLJ Lodging Trust, in addition to the significant efforts underway to protect the health and safety of guests and employees, is taking aggressive steps to mitigate the ongoing operational and financial impacts on its hotels from the pandemic.
“Over the past several weeks, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy, the U.S. and the local communities where our hotels are located, has accelerated. Our hearts are with those employees and people who have been directly impacted by this unprecedented event,” commented Leslie D. Hale, president/CEO. “We are taking necessary and proactive measures on multiple fronts to address the disruption from this crisis. These measures include temporarily suspending operations in many of our markets and further strengthening our balance sheet and liquidity to position us to navigate through these uncertain times.”
Some of the operational measures that the company has taken to date include the following:
Suspension of Hotel Operations: The company, along with its operators, has temporarily suspended operations at more than 50% of its hotels and will continue to evaluate the suspension of operations at its remaining hotels over the next several weeks. The decision to suspend operations was made in response to the elimination of hotel demand, resulting from COVID-19 and the related government and health official mandates in many markets, which are in the best interest of the communities served by RLJ’s properties and employees.
Cost Containment Initiatives: The company’s asset managers are working closely with its hotel management partners to materially reduce operating expenses and preserve liquidity by putting stringent operational cost containment measures in place. These measures include significantly reduced staffing; elimination of non-essential amenities and services; and the closure of several floors and all F&B outlets at properties that remain open.
Capital Investment Reduction: The company expects to reduce its 2020 capital expenditure program by more than 80% by deferring all capital investments, other than completing projects that are substantially underway and are nearing completion. Near-term, the company will take appropriate steps to protect and preserve its properties and re-evaluate its 2020 capital plan at a time when there is improved economic clarity.
ROI Project Suspensions: The company reviewed all 2020 ROI initiatives and is suspending 90% of these projects.
At the corporate level, the company is also taking aggressive actions to increase liquidity and preserve cash:
Common Stock Dividend Reduction: The company’s board of trustees recently authorized the reduction in the first-quarter common cash dividend to $0.01 per common share. It will continue to monitor the company’s financial performance and economic outlook to assess when it is appropriate to resume a regular quarterly common dividend, at a level determined to be prudent based on the economic outlook, or declare and pay any dividend required to be made for 2020 at the end of the year.
Increased Liquidity to $1.2 Billion in Corporate Cash: Out of an abundance of caution, the company took the proactive step to further enhance its liquidity position by drawing $400 million under its $600 million corporate line of credit, adding to its existing cash balance of approximately $800 million. By preemptively drawing this capital, the company has ensured that it maintains significant liquidity to meet its obligations over an extended period of time. There are no scheduled debt maturities until 2022.
RLJ Lodging Trust, in conjunction with its third-party management partners, will continue to evaluate additional measures that may be necessary to address the effects of the ongoing disruption in the broader economy and the lodging industry from COVID-19.
Condor Hospitality Trust
Maryland-based REIT Condor Hospitality Trust Inc. has provided an update on its response to COVID-19.
“There have been significant changes in business and economic conditions generally in the U.S. and in the lodging industry in particular as the COVID-19 crisis continues,” said J. William Blackham, CEO. “The company has determined that it is advisable and in the best business practice to cause temporary closures of 30 to 90 days of two of its hotels located in Solomons, MD, and Leawood, KS, and the company is evaluating on a daily basis similar temporary closures of hotels located in Lake Mary, FL; San Antonio; and Round Rock, TX. We will continue to assess reopenings of these hotels, and potential temporary closings of other company hotels, based on specific market trends.”
He added, “The company is taking these additional actions to address operating costs and to better position the company in the current lodging environment.”
Caesars Entertainment Corporation
Given the uncertain duration of the property closures throughout its network, Caesars Entertainment Corporation is temporarily moving to the minimum workforce needed to maintain basic operations. The company furloughed employees as its properties were ordered closed. The furloughs are expected to impact approximately 90% of employees at its domestic, owned properties as well as its corporate staff. Those individuals who are furloughed remain employees of the company throughout the furlough period.
“Given the closure of our properties, we are taking difficult but necessary steps to protect the company’s financial position and its ability to recover when circumstances allow us to reopen and begin welcoming our guests and employees back to our properties,” said Tony Rodio, CEO of Caesars Entertainment. “The company entered this crisis with strong operating performance, which, combined with the steps we are taking now, are critical to the future of our company.”
As part of its efforts, Caesars is taking steps to support its team members through the effects of these difficult actions. The company is paying furloughed employees for the first two weeks of the closure period and those employees can use their available paid time off after that. For furloughed employees enrolled in the Caesars health benefit plans, the company is paying 100% of health insurance premiums through June 30, or their return to work, whichever comes sooner.
Today, more than half Accor-branded hotels worldwide are closed, likely more than two-thirds in the coming weeks. The abrupt deterioration in the situation has prompted the group to take drastic actions across its global operations. These actions are indispensable to limit the impact on earnings and cash, and necessary to prepare for the post-crisis recovery, according to the company.
Mitigation measures were implemented as early as February. Given the situation, the group has decided to take aggressive, incremental actions. Collectively, these include a hiring freeze; reduced schedules and/or furloughing for 75% of global head office teams for Q2, resulting in a minimum $64.8-million reduction in G&A for 2020; and a reviewed recurring investment plan for 2020 resulting in a $64.8-million reduction in capital expenditures. The group is further streamlining all other costs (e.g., sales, marketing, IT), in line with lower system-wide revenues.
Thanks to its recent asset-light transformation and cash preservation strategy, Accor can today rely on a strong balance sheet, with more than $2.5 billion in cash on hand and an undrawn revolving credit facility of $1.3 billion. While much uncertainty remains on the duration of this crisis, the group expects a severe impact on its 2020 performance but remains bullish on the long-term perspective of the hospitality industry, for Accor, its employees, its owners and shareholders.
In these unchartered territories, Accor’s board of directors has decided to complement management actions outlined above by withdrawing its proposal for a 2019 dividend payment of $302 million.
After consulting with the group’s main shareholders—JinJiang International, Qatar Investment Authority, Kingdom Holding Company and Harris Associates—Accor has decided to allocate 25% of the planned dividend to the launch of the ALL Heartist Fund, a COVID-19 special purpose vehicle (ALL stands for Accor Live Limitless). This fund will typically assist the group’s 300,000 employees, pledging to pay for their COVID-19-related hospital expenses for those who do not have social security or medical insurance; furloughed employees suffering great financial distress, on a case-by-case basis; and individual partners facing financial difficulty, on a case-by-case basis. In addition, the group will further deploy its solidarity initiatives to support front-line healthcare professionals and nonprofit organizations.
Additionally, Sébastien Bazin, chairman/CEO of Accor, will forgo 25% of his compensation during the crisis. The cash equivalent will also be contributed to the fund.
“Welcoming, protecting and taking care of others is at the very heart of what we do. In light of the urgency and the scale of the situation, we have decided to act in an immediate and meaningful way, in the spirit of our values and commitments,” said Bazin. “Through this impactful gesture, we wish to express our solidarity and gratitude to all those demonstrating courage and selflessness during this crisis. On behalf of the board, I would like to thank the group’s main shareholders. Without them, the ALL Heartist Fund would not have been possible. I also want to pay a special tribute to the Accor teams around the world. They are facing the current crisis with admirable courage, dedication and professionalism. As our industry is going through tough times, we have to make tough decisions, but Accor has a strong balance sheet, which will enable it to withstand this crisis and emerge with strength during the recovery period. I am confident that Accor will soon rediscover the road to growth.”