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COVID-19 Conversations: Entrepreneur Basil Bacall on the Pandemic’s Impact on the Hospitality Industry

The Riley Institute’s Center for Critical Issues “brings the world to Furman University” by hosting a diverse roster of speakers on campus each year. While our events are on hold due to COVID-19, The Riley Institute’s Advance Team students are (virtually) bringing notable past speakers into their own homes for thoughtful conversations about the coronavirus’s impact on many facets of life.

Published on July 9, 2020 | Conversation recorded July 1, 2020

The word “pivot” gets tossed around a lot these days. Every business sector has had to quickly adapt its operational model to meet both safety and financial concerns, but the hospitality industry has had to ponder one of the biggest questions of them all: How do you stay afloat when your business is built on getting people in the door?

Basil Bacall, President and CEO of Elite Hospitality Group, is no stranger to the pivot. In his early days as an entrepreneur, Bacall repositioned a financially distressed asset into an award-winning, profitable hotel. Now he owns nearly two dozen hotels and real estate properties in metropolitan Detroit.

Still, no amount of ingenuity could have prepared him for the pandemic. In early March, his hotels saw healthy occupancy rates that ranged from 70 to 80 percent. By the end of the month, those same hotels were only seeing one to two guests a day.

Even as more people begin to travel in the summer months upon the expiration of stay-at-home orders, Bacall and his colleagues in the hospitality industry are grappling with how they can keep guests and staff safe without going under.

In early July, Bacall sat down with Advance Team members Natalya Schoenwether ’21, Maddy Lock ’21, and Ellie Haughton ’22 to share his perspective on safety protocols and financial assistance from the government. 

Bacall, a Chaldean immigrant, once served as a panelist for the Riley Institute’s 2018 StraightTalk series on the economics of immigration. 

View all COVID-19 Conversations episodes

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this recording are those of the individuals appearing in the video and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Riley Institute or Furman University.