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Times Have Changed; To Fill Rooms on Weekends Downtown Philadelphia Hotels
 Use to Offer Two Nights for the Price of One, Now These Same Hotels Are
 Posting their Highest Occupancy Rates on Saturdays
By Tom Belden, The Philadelphia InquirerMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Jan. 15, 2007 --How times have changed.

Center City hotels that used to offer two nights for the price of one to fill rooms on the weekend are posting some of their highest occupancy and room rates on Saturdays.

As a result, many discounts are gone, but the visitors keep packing the hotels.

Traditionally, demand from business travelers and conventioneers has helped urban hotels achieve higher occupancy on weekdays than weekends. But that hasn't been the case here for more than two years, according to the regional Hospitality Industry Snapshot prepared for three tourism organizations.

The latest monthly report, a close look at how hotels and other visitor services are doing, shows that Saturday-night occupancy was 87 percent in November and averaged 82 percent in the 12-month period of December 2005 through November, the most recent figures available. Most hotels are happy if they fill 65 percent to 70 percent of their rooms, lodging experts say.

Philadelphia's lively weekend atmosphere, plethora of restaurants, cultural attractions, and pro and college sports teams are drawing growing numbers of both domestic and international travelers and groups, said Peter R. Tyson, vice president of PKF Consulting, who does the monthly snapshot.

The combination of factors provides hotels here more weekend business than any other big Northeastern city except New York, he said.

Center City's weekend occupancy rates last year were fractionally ahead of hotels in Boston's central business district, which was at 81 percent, and far ahead of those in Baltimore, at 74 percent, and Washington, at 68 percent, Tyson said.

Occupancy for all seven nights in Center City, where about a quarter of the region's 41,000 hotel rooms are situated, was outpaced only by lodgings around Philadelphia International Airport. Seven-day occupancy was about 72 percent through November for Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties.

Tyson's monthly reports are sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association.

For overnight visitors, the downside of the hotels' robust health is what it has done to the rates that the lodgings can command. Gone are the two-nights-for-the-price-of-one deals that were needed after Sept. 11, 2001, to try to boost business.

Through November, the average daily rate at Center City hotels was $157, or 9 percent higher than last year. The average rate in the five-county area was $121, 8 percent more than the first 11 months of 2005.

Another part of the snapshot report indicates that Philadelphia's tourism-marketing efforts in Europe are paying off, said Fritz Smith, the convention bureau's vice president of tourism.

Based on surveys done at the Independence Visitors Center, the number of international travelers grew about 25 percent last year compared with 2005. The number of international visitors fell 19 percent from 2004 to 2005, due in part to a cutback in funding from the state that curtailed the city's advertising in Europe.

But much of the overseas advertising budget was restored last spring, at the same time US Airways started new nonstop flights to Europe, which helped raise awareness of Philadelphia, Smith said.

"Philadelphia has a really good buzz going on right now, all over the world," he said. "From a leisure standpoint, our product is so much better than it used to be."

Contact staff writer Tom Belden at 215-854-2454 or tbelden@phillynews.com.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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