|By Mike Gorrell, The Salt Lake
TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
January 26, 2010 --Utah hotels finished 2009 with occupancy rates 6 percent to 7 percent below 2008 levels.
Despite the dip, the declines for the last three months of the year were about half of the annual rate, with December's slippage under 2 percent. Average nightly rates also showed signs of rebounding, according to the latest monthly report from the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Lodging Report.
"These number are certainly no surprise, very much what we anticipated," said Michael Johnson, Utah Hotel & Lodging Association executive director. "But the rate of falling has somewhat slowed down."
He is optimistic Utah's hotels will do better in 2010, citing figures recited at a recent Utah Tourism Development Board meeting that suggested out-of-state interest in Utah was up for the months January through February.
"I think we'll match the January 2009 occupancy rate of 53.4 percent and, certainly, the 60.5 percent [rate] for February," Johnson said.
The year-end Lodging Report put 2009 occupancy rates statewide at 56.9 percent, down from 63.7 percent in 2008. Salt Lake County hotels filled more rooms, 61.6 percent on a nightly basis last year, but that also was down from 69.2 percent in '08.
Salt Lake County hoteliers collected an average of $92 per night for a room, $6 less than a year earlier. The statewide average was down $5 a night, to $94, the report said.<>The occupancy comparisons for the two years are a little skewed, Johnson noted, because the first nine months of 2008 preceded the economic free fall, whose aftershocks were felt throughout 2009. >
In the three months where more reliable head-to-head comparisons can be made -- October, November and December -- the decline was just under 3 percent.
Because the economic outlook was more stable at the end of 2009 than a year earlier, Johnson believes last month's occupancy rate would have eclipsed December of '08 if the weather had been more cooperative.
The Lodging Report showed December occupancy rates at Utah mountain resorts was 40.4 percent last month, down from 51 percent in 2008 and 57 percent in '07.
Hotels in the southern Salt Lake Valley, which also attract numerous skiers in the winter, similarly showed an occupancy decline from 75 percent in 2007 to 65 percent in 2008 to 60 percent last year. Those hotels fared even worse last month, filling just 53.5 percent of their rooms nightly.
"We didn't have as much snow as we would have liked. If we would have, we could have matched 2008's numbers because everyone now understands where the economy is and where their own finances are," Johnson said. "In December 2008, nobody had a clue whether they would keep their jobs or their companies would stay open."
Nevertheless, he said it will take quite some time for occupancy levels to return to the healthy levels of 2007.
"People are still more cautious. They understand what they can and can't afford to spend their money on."
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