|By Tony Adams, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer,
Ga.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 23, 2011--A new Hilton brand focused on the extended-stay market is coming to Columbus, locating in the Bradley Park Drive area and adding to an already bulging hotel sector in the city.
The Home2 Suites by Hilton will be the first in the state of Georgia when it opens for guests next September at 1664 Whittlesey Road, next to Rivertown Ford. Georgia construction firm Pinkerton & Laws is building the hotel for nearly $6.3 million, according to city building permits.
"The convenience of the restaurants and shopping is a big reason," said Michelle Spivey, vice president of sales and marketing for Ram Hotels, when asked why that area of Columbus was chosen for the Home2 Suites. "The Country Inn & Suites over there does very well, as do the other properties. It's just a very attractive area to be in."
6th property for Ram
The 81-suite, four-story Home2 Suites will be the sixth property for Columbus-based Ram Hotels, which has several investors, but is led by Rinkesh Patel. The company also operates the Hampton Inn & Suites and Days Inn in Phenix City. In Columbus, it has the Microtel Inn & Suites on Fountain Court, the Country Inn & Suites on Rollins Way and the Econo Lodge on Veterans Parkway.
The local debut of the new Hilton concept comes with the Columbus market absorbing many new properties and brands over the last few years. Homewood Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, SpringHill Suites, Staybridge Suites, Residence Inn, Holiday Inn Express & Suites, Wyndham Garden, Doubletree, Home-Towne Suites, TownePlace Suites, Candlewood Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Hyatt Place, Suburban Extended Stay, Value Place and Extended Stay America all have opened here in a relatively short period of time.
"We're seeing occupancy in the mid-70s as a yearly average," said Spivey, pointing primarily at the military-related business in the city that includes training graduations attended by family members. "Because of Fort Benning and all of the construction and business out there -- plus the addition of the Armor (School) -- you have a whole new set of people coming to the area. Business has been very stable and strong for us this year."
Citywide, the hotel occupancy rate currently is at 69 percent, up 11 percent from a year ago, said Peter Bowden, president and chief executive officer of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau. The average daily rate, or ADR, paid by guests for a room is $72.53, up nearly 5 percent year over year.
"We had consultants tell us two weeks ago that when any hotel has 60 percent occupancy or better, it means everyone should be making money, unless there's just something wrong with their operation. This is not bad for Columbus," Bowden said.
Daily rate issues
The ADR is more of a concern, however. As the economy nosedived over the last four years, hoteliers nationwide cut their rates to lure guests, which in turn led the U.S. government to study and then cut the per diem rate paid by military-connected travelers. By next year, it will have been slashed $10 per night. Bowden said the city and the CVB are trying to have that re-evaluated to get the per diem rate up to $91 per night.
"We've seen a tremendous amount of supply come on the market in the last several years. And we're also seeing demand continue to go up," said Glenn Davis, a partner in the company that operates the Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites in Columbus. The puzzling and troubling part is our ADR is lagging in Columbus right now."
Aside from the per diem issue, Davis said corporate business is off, with the economy prompting companies to cut back on travel and videoconference more. And there's simply the fact that more players in the Columbus market makes it much more competitive.
"We still in the hotel industry face some challenges," Davis said. "Certainly the more supply that comes on the market, we're splitting the pie up. But I think these guys (at Home2 Suites) will be fine and I wish them every bit of success."
Columbus now has about 4,500 hotel rooms, with an estimated 500 in Phenix City, pushing the total up to 5,000 for the entire lodging market.
For Bowden and the CVB, that rising number helps when it comes to trying to sell the city to larger and larger groups and events.
"You've got to figure if a hotel investor is looking to build new in Columbus, they have confidence in what is going on in the marketplace," he said. "And the type of hotel that you referred to (Home2 Suites) gives us another product to sell. We've seen a lot of these suite-type come in because that's what the market is demanding. (Travelers) want a non-traditional hotel experience."
Home2 Suites by Hilton will look to fill that bill, with 80 percent of its units expected to be studio size, and the balance having a separate bedroom and living area. An expanded common area, called the "Oasis," will include a community table, work zones, pantry, activity room and laundry facilities. The hotels are aimed at those wishing to stay a week or more.
Hilton launched the brand in January 2009, with 75 locations planned. The first opened this spring in Fayetteville, N.C., which is home to Fort Bragg and the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division. The fifth property made its debut in West Valley City, Utah, this month.
The Columbus location, when it opens next September, will be the 14th in the Home2 Suites chain, Spivey said.
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