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Home & Garden: The Global Supply-Chain Crisis Is Hitting Hotels Where It Hurts Most

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By now, supply-chain shortages at hotels—and, quite frankly, everywhere else—are an all too familiar scenario in the wake of the pandemic. Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that properties around the country have had difficulties sourcing mini bottles of shampoo, towels, and other basics. And get this: Items such as Champagne flutes are also in short supply.

Forget the flutes, says Bjorn Hanson, an adjunct professor at the Tisch Center for Hospitality at New York University—even if they did have the glasses, properties today may not be able to find the Champagne to fill them with. And, no, that’s not a joke. “The list of what hotels need today and don’t have because of supply shortages and shipping delays goes on and on,” he says. “A consumer typically buys one of an item, but hotels need 50, 100, or more of a single item, and these large quantities have been very challenging to secure.”

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The Pierre Hotel overlooking Central Park. © Bill Ross The Pierre Hotel overlooking Central Park.

The Pierre, an upscale hotel on Fifth Avenue, just off Central Park, is an example of a property that’s struggled to find the basics. “We’ve had a hard time buying enough soap, shampoo, slippers, Q-tips, and many other items,” general manager Francois-Olivier Luiggi says. “We’re a luxury hotel, which means that we want to offer our guests lots of amenities and need more items than many other properties.”

Since hotels tend to order their supplies a year in advance, he explained, The Pierre was well stocked for more than the first year following the start of the pandemic. Now that the world has opened up and hotel occupancy has increased (the first few weeks of January due to Omicron aside), Luiggi says that the property ran out of supplies and that ordering new stock hasn’t been easy. He and his team of managers have been handling the issue by sourcing alternatives that offer equal quality. Instead of the Italian brand Etro for its in-room toiletries, for instance, The Pierre switched to Fragonard from France. “Even that was hard, but we managed,” he says.

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Many hotels in New York have faced similar difficulties, according to Vijay Dandapani, the president and CEO of the Hotel Association of New York City, an organization that represents 300 hotels in the three-to-five-star range. “Anecdotally, we have heard about shortages for napkins, silverware, towels, sheets, and practically anything else you can think of,” he says. The dearth of supplies likely didn’t start impacting the guest experience until the end of November, Dandapani says, because hotel occupancy in the city was low. “When occupancy started to pick up in December, it’s possible that a stay for guests might have been and continues to be comprised because of the lack of some goods,” he says.

Judging by nationwide occupancy levels, the situation in New York extends to the entire country. As the WSJ reported, “Despite the record number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., fueled by the Omicron variant, people have been flocking to beach resorts, ski lodges, and other leisure destinations. Christmas Day hotel occupancy reached a record for that day at 47.2%, just above the previous one in 2015 of 47%, according to hotel analytics firm STR.”

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New hotels have gotten hit particularly hard from supply shortages as they race to open and establish a footprint and attract guests in a competitive industry.

Española Way © Joe Raedle Española Way

Take the Esme Miami Beach, located on Española Way, which soft-opened in November—around six months behind schedule. “Our holdup was the delays in getting supplies,” general manager Jessica LaRosa says. “Our kitchen equipment was very delayed, and we needed it to pass our inspection, and the custom uniforms and furniture we ordered had up to a nine-month wait.” Even now, LaRosa says, the property is still waiting on custom pieces from Europe for its guest rooms and public spaces. In the meantime, Esme has gotten creative in finding temporary solutions. “One of our owners has a collection of fabulous antique furniture which works beautifully in place of our custom order,” she says. “We’re rolling with the punches the best we can.”

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