|By Andrea Ahles, Fort Worth
Star-Telegram, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
January 27, 2009 - More than half of the hotel beds in Fort Worth and Arlington were not slept in this December.
According to new reports, both cities reported hotel occupancy rates below 50 percent last month -- 49.3 percent and 42.9 percent respectively -- in what is usually a slower month for tourism and business travel. With fewer people traveling for business or leisure as the recession took hold, occupancy rates were also down for all of 2008. Still, rates in Tarrant County cities remained above the national average of 60.4 percent.
This year may not be any better for local hotels, according to officials with local convention and visitors bureaus.
"Hotels are pretty much seeing slippage on the groups coming in and they are also seeing some cancellations of some meetings up the road," said George Kakos, assistant executive director at the Grapevine CVB.
Grapevine, home to the Gaylord Texan, had a December occupancy rate of 55.6 percent, down from 57.2 percent in the same month last year. For the full year, occupancy rates fell 2.8 percent to 69.2 percent in 2008, compared to 71.2 percent in 2007.
Kakos said his bureau is trying to focus on local companies that may want to hold meetings here and bring associates in instead of flying their corporate staff out of town.
Fort Worth's hotel occupancy rates are expected to continue to decline in 2009, partly due to the new hotel rooms that have been added downtown. While citywide occupancy rates were 49.3 percent in December, the downtown rate was 46.5 percent, down 19 percent from last year. The big decline is mainly due to 400 renovated rooms at the Sheraton Fort Worth Hotel and Spa that opened in the summer.
"As we increase the inventory, the occupancy is dropping no matter what the economy is," said Fort Worth CVB chief executive David DuBois. "The good news for us is that our total demand and total room revenues will exceed year over year because we are bringing in new business."
But DuBois is quick to add that room revenues are increasing since there are more hotel rooms to sell with the 600-plus room Omni Fort Worth hotel now open. In 2008, the downtown area generated $59 million in room revenue, a 17.2 percent increase over 2007, he said.
For the full year, occupancy rates in Fort Worth declined 3 percent to 66.1 percent, compared with 68.2 percent in 2007.
In Arlington, which is also adding hotels to its entertainment district and the I-20 corridor, occupancy rates for 2008 dropped 3.8 percent to 63.1 percent, compared with 65.6 percent for the year.
Local hoteliers are bracing for a difficult 2009 and Arlington CVB president Jay Burress said spring break should be an indicator of how Arlington hotels will fare in the summer tourism season.
"We're going to have more of the same over the next few months with the economy, unfortunately," Burress said.
Hotel occupancy rates for December fell across North Texas as the recession impacted meeting and tourism business.
City; December 2008;
December 2007; 2008; 2007
Source: Smith Travel Research, local convention & visitors bureaus
ANDREA AHLES, 817-548-5523
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