|by Patrick Quek, January 1999
For many people, downtown hotels conjure up images of grand ballrooms, formal attire, fancy restaurants, and signature skyline architecture. Indeed, the restoration of a former “grande dame” has often been the cornerstone of urban revitalization efforts. Not only do these urban hotels provide an economic stimulus, but they act as a “feel-good” safe haven for locals migrating back downtown after years of patronizing retail and entertainment establishments in the suburbs.
In most cities across the nation, the inventory of downtown hotels serve some basic functions for the local hospitality industry.
Historically, downtown hotels have always achieved a premium in room
rates over other properties in their respective metropolitan areas.
Through July 1998, hotels located in central business districts are achieving
an average daily room rate (ADR) 14.8 percent greater than the average
for the entire market. The main reason for this is the “upscale”
market orientation of most downtown properties, as well as the need to
charge higher prices due to greater development costs. The higher
development costs are attributable to the deluxe, full-service nature of
most downtown hotels, as well as the increased cost of land and high-rise
On the other hand, occupancy for downtown hotels has historically been slightly less than the overall market average. In general, most urban properties are oriented towards accommodating business and convention travelers. This market orientation carries with it occupancy limitations due to the seasonality of these demand segments. In addition, most downtown properties are in excess of 400 rooms, therefore making it more difficult to reach capacity.
Helping the recent improvement in downtown hotel occupancy levels has been several factors:
The recent levels of strong urban hotel performance have not gone unnoticed by hotel developers. While market performance measurements of occupancy and ADR have been observed since 1995, it has not been until 1997 and 1998 that the profits have approached levels sufficient to cover development costs. Currently, most urban markets now have at least one major hotel renovation, if not a new construction project, underway.
In light of this new competition, it was expected that downtown hotels would start to see the downward trend in occupancy and slowdown in ADR growth that had been experienced in the suburban and rural markets. However, the recent run of the bears on Wall Street has frozen development capital. Consequently, we’ve already seen the postponement and cancellation of new urban hotel development projects that just a few months ago were considered “done deals”. As long as the development capital for the larger downtown urban hotel projects remains scarce, and the national economy does not go into a full-fledged recession, you can expect to see relatively strong growth in profits continue for downtown hotels.
When looking at downtown hotels in the future, you may notice that the
lights do seem to be much brighter there. The reason? All the
Source: PKF Consulting
Patrick Quek is president and CEO of PKF Consulting, an international hospitality consulting firm headquartered in San Francisco.