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Atlanta Area Occupancy at 57% for April 2010 Compared to 53%
 a Year Earlier; Uptick Follows Two Years of Doldrums

By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

June 17, 2010 --Metro Atlanta hotel occupancy continued to improve in the first four months of the year, rising 4 percent compared to the same period a year ago, hospitality officials said Wednesday.

Overall occupancy at the end of April, the most recent month for which numbers are available, was about 57 percent, according to the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. That compared to the about 53 percent occupancy a year earlier.

The uptick follows two years of doldrums for the metro area's $11 billion hospitality industry. Conventioneers pulled back on travel and corporate leaders put on the spending brakes, leaving a large inventory of empty rooms.

This year's increase also has resulted in the first pay increase for the ACVB staff, which saw wages frozen in 2008 and 2009 because of the downturn. William Pate, president of the organization, said Wednesday that staffers were given a 2 percent increase last month and could get an additional merit raise on top of that in the coming months.

The ACVB is funded by a combination of proceeds from hotel/motel taxes and dues from members in the metro Atlanta hospitality community. Businesses also contribute, but that funding is often earmarked for specific uses.

ACVB leaders said a bumper crop of conventions earlier in the year, coupled with higher attendance, pushed up the occupancy numbers. Buckhead hotels led the way, posting a 15 percent increase through April over the previous year, followed by an 11.2 percent hike for convention lodgers.

"All areas from Alpharetta to (Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport) are showing positive results year over year and that is very encouraging for us," said Mark Vaughan, ACVB executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer.

Ed Walls, general manager of the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel, said bookings are up and rooms filled at the downtown landmark, where about 200 rooms are still unavailable because of the 2008 downtown tornado that damaged windows. Window replacement began in September 2009 and should be finished by October.

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