Hotels in Greater Grand Forks have started to bounce back from the pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus, and while some in the hospitality industry are optimistic about the future, the long-running closure of the Canadian border is still a cause for concern.

The return to a more normal situation for hotels in the region is being driven, in part, by youth sporting events, and the return of live music. Company meetings and conventions have started again as have wedding receptions, which bolster some hotels' balance sheets.

“Probably the biggest obstacle right now is the Canadian border still not being open, but it'll happen eventually so we're trying to be patient,” said Julie Rygg, executive director of Visit Greater Grand Forks.

As of April, the latest month for which numbers are available, 45.2% of rooms were booked at 20 hotels in the region, which have a combined 1,544 rooms available. In April 2020, what Rygg called “prime pandemic time,” 23% of rooms were booked for the same number of hotels. For the same month in 2019, 52.1% of rooms at 21 properties were booked and in 2018, the rate stood at 51.3%

Rygg bases those numbers off of hotels that voluntarily report their occupancy rates to a company called STR, a global analytics and benchmarking company that provides insight to the hospitality sector. Though there are more than 20 hotels in the region, not all report to STR, and some like the Townhouse Hotel and Travelodge, closed amid the pandemic, meaning the total number of hotel rooms in the region is in a state of flux, as some properties add or shed rooms during remodels.

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Like Rygg, Joe Cozart, who runs OpXGroup, a consulting firm associated with Ashok "Smiley" Thakker, owner of the Ramada, said occupancy at the hotel has rebounded from earlier in the pandemic, when levels dropped at some points to 10%. Wedding receptions, sporting and company events and a recent chiropractor’s convention have boosted his rate to between 40-50%.

Still, he said the closure of the Canadian border is a “major problem,” and income lost during the pandemic can’t be replaced. He is looking to upcoming summer events to keep guests coming in the doors, while the border remains closed.

“The only thing we haven't recovered from is the pandemic months themselves, meaning financially,” Cozart said. “We're back to where we need to be, and we're making money to pay our bills.”

Rygg said she is “swamped” with events for the summer, including youth baseball and soccer tournaments, the multi-day Greenway Takeover Festival slated for September, and others. The recent Art on the Red event helped drive hotel stays, as many craft vendors came from out of town. Concerts at the Alerus Center, she said, will also be a big driver of people.

The center has shows booked from Aug. 20 through the end of 2021. Anna Rosburg, the center’s general manager, didn’t say how many tickets have been sold for those concerts, but claimed that nearly 90% of them originate “out of county.”