3/22/20 Whittaker Inn, Lobby

The lobby of the Whittaker Inn stands empty on Sunday afternoon. Many have changed travel plans, according to area managers and owners.

No events. Few guests. Little revenue. Purdue’s cancellation of in-person classes and gatherings for the rest of the semester has left hotels scrambling to find other sources of income.

Frank Desai, general manager of Campus Inn, opened his guestbook Wednesday and found only one customer for the night, a visiting professor from India. Purdue’s measures to impose social distancing and general warnings on international travel has ground the business to a halt.

“I’m completely in shock,” Desai said. “There’s no source of revenue.”

The spring season is usually the busiest for Campus Inn, with major events like Grand Prix and commencement, Desai said. But this year, all reservations have been canceled until August.

His action plan is to cut expenses. He’s stopping laundry service temporarily and asking whether utility companies can give him a break for a couple of weeks.

Desai argues that his facility is safer than his competitors’. Located at the intersection of River Road and State Street, he said his outdoor property has no shared indoor spaces and few surfaces to touch.

Andrew and Elizabeth Whittaker have been presented with the same challenge during their first year of operating Whittaker Inn, at 702 W. 500 N. in West Lafayette. They’ve poured their life experiences working in hospitality to start a new business, only to have a pandemic throw a wrench into their plans.

“In the short term, it definitely has a significant impact,” Elizabeth Whittaker said. “But we are hopeful for the long-term scenario. We have received a lot of support from the community and we are evaluating some ways right now to see how we can still keep in touch with the community.”

The Whittakers have closed the dining room, amplified cleaning measures and asked all staff to go on leave. Elizabeth Whittaker said they hope to roll out a carry-out food service in the near future.

The inn has seen some activity, with a scattering of reservations from the community “just looking for an escape for a night.”

Whittaker remains optimistic in the midst of cancellations and empty rooms.

“We are hopeful once it is deemed safe that people can get out and about and travel, we certainly are hopeful that they will,” Elizabeth Whittaker said.

But in the short term when basic needs are sought after, it is a challenging time for the hospitality industry.

“We as a business rely on Purdue,” Desai said. “If Purdue takes a vacation, we are cursed.”

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