|By O.K. Carter, Fort Worth Star-Telegram,
TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 23, 2007 - The not-always-silent battle between Grapevine and Arlington for the hearts, minds -- and wallets -- of conventioneers and tourists continues to intensify.
Neither side appears to be saying "uncle," but it's obvious that Grapevine has been getting the best of it lately, though not in an overwhelming way.
The tale is in the numbers.
Grapevine hotels, led by the flagship Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center on Lake Grapevine -- itself with 1,511 rooms -- are running at about 72 percent occupancy with an average daily room rate of a little more than $100, excellent by Texas standards.
Arlington, year to date, is running at 68 percent occupancy, with an average daily room rate of a little over $70 -- still well above the state's median rate.
The trend isn't consistent. In July, for instance, the Arlington occupancy rate was 72.7 percent, a few digits above the Grapevine rate of 67.8 percent.
"Considering that it seemed like it rained 40 days and 40 nights straight right about then, that's not a bad outcome," said Linda DiMario, chief executive officer of the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau.
That being said, at least for the moment, the momentum is clearly going Grapevine's way.
The Gaylord wants to add 500 rooms and more meeting space, and four other Grapevine hotels have 1,500 rooms in the works.
This includes the almost surreal Great Wolf Lodge, which is scheduled to open around the end of the year.
Its leading feature is an 80,000-square-foot indoor water park, plus a spa and fitness center.
Collectively it's a tough matchup for Arlington, something DiMario freely admits.
"Gaylord's stunning success has both directly and indirectly affected Arlington convention business and hotel occupancy," she said. "They spend millions advertising across the country, they have an exciting resort property with which Arlington cannot compete and they deliver a quality experience."
Clearly, DiMario believes that if you can't say anything bad about a competitor, say something nice.
Then again, there's no point in denying the obvious -- Grapevine has clearly become a contender both statewide and nationally in this arena.
For Arlington this challenge -- particularly the Gaylord -- creates another problem as well.
"When Fort Worth and Dallas are feeling pressured by the Gaylord for conventions, we feel the pressure because those cities then keep going after our niche markets to compensate," DiMario said.
Some predicted that the presence of the Gaylord would turn into a doomsday scenario for the Arlington tourism business, and clearly business is tougher to get.
But the Arlington hotel occupancy numbers have been inching upward, impeded more than a little by the addition of about 2,500 rooms over the last dozen years, driving the occupancy percentage downward.
If there's a snag, it's that about 70 percent of Arlington's hotel spaces are not in full-service facilities, an oddity that the City Council would like to change.
Nevertheless, in 2004, the year the Gaylord opened, Arlington's occupancy rate increased from 54.2 percent to 57.6 percent.
There are, of course, changes on the horizon that could alter the competitive dynamic.
The new Cowboys stadium and a sprawling mixed-used development called Glorypark are due to open in 2009 in Arlington. In addition to at least one major new hotel in Glorypark, two other 500-plus-room hotel projects are under discussion, along with the possibility of the $300 million Texas Blues Museum and Theater complex, the latter a mix of music, retail, hotel and condominium uses.
So far, the competition between Grapevine and Arlington actually seems to be driving overall visitation upward. In a best-outcome scenario, the winner will be both.
O.K. Carter appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. 817-548-5428 firstname.lastname@example.org
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