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Hotel occupancy on the rise nationwide

Hotel occupancy is up in cities and towns across the country, an indication that economic recovery may have begun.

At a recent Lodging Conference in Las Vegas, Mark Woodworth of PKF Hospitality Research predicted that occupancy will rise again next year.

“We’ve moved past the bottom of the trough,” he said. “Occupancies are clearly beginning to recover.”

Statistics back the claim. Hotels posted an 8.7 percent increase in the second quarter of 2010 and a 5.1 percent increase in the first quarter.

A number of cities say increases in convention and sports event bookings have made the difference.

The Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau reported that it booked more than 69,000 definite meetings and convention room nights in July, the highest number of definite room night bookings for one month in the city’s history. Definite room night bookings are signed contracts for future group, meetings and convention business.

The room nights booked in July are for conventions in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014, and are a combination of new and repeat business.

“These outstanding results from our current sales and marketing efforts show the continued strength and vitality of Fort Worth’s meetings and convention industry,” said David DuBois, the bureau’s president and CEO.

Before July, the Fort Worth CVB’s highest monthly booking of definite room nights was in December 2007 with more than 65,000 definite room nights.

In Anaheim, Calif., the CVB reported that a number of the groups that met there this year have exceeded their attendance estimates, including the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, which set an all-time attendance record of more than 21,000.

In the first six months of the year, 367 meetings and conventions with a total attendance of 600,927, were held in Anaheim and Orange County, Calif, according to the CVB.

Charleston, S.C., has seen hotel occupancy increase throughout this year on the popular downtown peninsula, the heart of its historic area. In August, bookings were up 12.5 percent from a year earlier, according to the College of Charleston’s Office of Tourism Analysis.

Future bookings are also on the rise for the Oklahoma City CVB. The CVB reported in early September that it had topped its original targeted bookings for the 2010 fiscal year by 7 percent.

Dalton, Ga., saw a big bump in hotel bookings in July, up 20 percent from the year before, and hoteliers told the local newspaper that the Dalton CVB’s efforts to bring in more small conventions and sports tournaments fueled the increase.

In July, three weekend religious conferences were held at the NorthWest Georgia Trade and Convention Center; major softball and baseball tournaments also came to the area that month.
In addition to the convention center, new softball, baseball and soccer complexes have been built in the area in the last two years.

Sports tournaments also proved a positive in Rockford, Ill., where the Rockford Area CVB reported a 42 percent increase in its group business during the 2010 fiscal year.

Natchez, Miss., saw convention bookings inch up in 2010. The city has booked 49 conventions compared to 42 last year, and the CVB expects the additional groups as well as a busy fall season of festivals and other special weekend events will pay off in improved hotel occupancy and other benefits to the small Southern community.

From mid-September until November the city’s convention center is booked each weekend.

And in south Florida, where the AIG effect hit hard, resorts are seeing a hint of recovery, according to a recent story in the Miami Herald.

At the Doral Golf Resort and Spa in west Dade County, group business has increased about 35 percent over last year. At the Key West Marriott Beachside, where a number of meetings cancelled last year, group business is up 72 percent.

The meetings seem to be of the no-frills variety however. Resorts report that although occupancy is on the rise, spending on spa services, bar tabs, rounds of golf and other extras has decreased.

Meeting business has been decimated in Arizona, not by by the economy but by controversy over the nation’s toughest immigration law.

About $15 million in convention business was cancelled because of controversy over Arizona SB 1070.

Groups aren’t canceling as much they were, but leaders still worry that attendance will decline at some events.