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Q and A with Stephanie Haynes, Head of the Hotel &
 Lodging Association of Greater Houston
Houston ChronicleMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

January 30, 2010 --Last month, Stephanie Haynes took over as head of the Hotel & Lodging Association of Greater Houston, a nonprofit organization representing more than 200 hotels and 100 industry-related businesses.

The new president replaced Joan Johnson, who had led the organization since 1999 when it had less than 100 members.

Haynes, who had been serving as the group's director of programs and special events, has taken over during one of the more challenging times in the hotel business.Occupancy rates are down, room rates have fallen, and the tight credit market has made it difficult for hotel developers to add new rooms.

She spoke with the Chronicle's Nancy Sarnoff about some of those challenges. Here are excerpts:.

Q: When will the local hotel market bounce back?

A: The third and fourth quarters are when we expect some movement.

What we're forecasting is what PKF is forecasting in occupancy. We'll be at about 57.7 percent for 2010, and they're expecting our ADR (average daily rate) to be basically level.

When you compare it to other cities, we've not dropped as far. RevPar (revenue per available room) is anticipated to drop 1.2 percent in 2010.

Q: When will we see hotel development again?

A: That's probably going to be a couple years from now, but it's all dependent on the banks and when the markets start unfreezing. Right now the funding is not out there for the mid to large hotels.

Many people are driving around seeing all the hotels being built. But most of the funding for these projects was obtained three or four years ago.

Q: What are some of your goals going into the job?

A: We want to work with our community leaders so they're aware of the economic value of hotels and tourism as far as what we bring to the city in terms of revenue and employment.

We work closely with the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. We want to continue to strengthen ties -- to help them get the room inventory they need when they're trying to sell conventions. It's one of things that bring great economic impact to our city.

One of the things we're focusing on is that we have one of the highest occupancy tax rates in the United States at 17 percent, and that does make it difficult when you're trying to sell to conventions.

That puts us at a competitive disadvantage, so we're trying to make sure our taxes aren't increased and the funds are being used to bring visitors into Houston.

Q: Where does that 17 percent go?

A: Seven percent goes to the city of Houston, 6 percent goes to the state of Texas, 2 percent goes to Harris County, and 2 percent goes to the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority.

We want to make sure people are educated on the hotel occupancy tax, how it's used, basically for promotion of tourism, and those types of issues.

Q: The city has talked about building another convention center hotel downtown to help bring in more and bigger conventions. Do you know the status of that project?

A: You have to look at the economic climate right now. It's a little bit hard to get funding when you're talking about those major projects. Until the economy starts picking up a little, we're going to keep discussing it.

It would be a wonderful addition to the city, but at this point I just don't see the funding. But once the markets unfreeze, everything's open to change.

Q: What are the biggest concerns of your members?

A: The economy across the board is one of the big concerns. We're suffering less than the rest of the nation, but we still are. We've had our occupancy rates drop, but not as significantly as the United States. The hotel business pretty much follows the business dynamic for the city.

Q: When did you get into the hotel business?

A: I started in the industry when I was 16. Once you get in this business, you develop such a love for what you're doing. I've been every-thing from an administrative assistant to convention ser-vices to a corporate meeting planner to national sales.

nancy.sarnoff@chron.com

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