|By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 23, 2004 - The welcome mats at Atlanta hotels are getting a lot dirtier these days -- and operators couldn't be happier.
After three years of declining occupancy, the city's hotel rooms are filling up with tourists, business professionals and conventioneers.
Occupancy rates for the first quarter are up 3.7 percent over the same period last year, Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau leaders say. But what really excites them is that bookings for all of 2004 are 20 percent ahead of where they were at this point last year, said Bill Howard, vice president of marketing, communications and tourism for the ACVB.
The bookings, if they stay on course, could result in the industry's best performance in three years, he said.
"We won't reach the benchmark we set in 2000, but we are on track to show significant improvements over the last three years," he said.
It's happening without big, overhyped marquee events like the National Basketball Association All-Star Game, which brought thousands to Atlanta in February 2003.
While sporting events like the Peach Bowl, the national ice skating championships and Cheersport brought in fans from all over the country, what's helping the long-term outlook on bookings is a resurgence in attendance at trade shows and corporate meetings, the bread and butter of the industry.
New shows at the Georgia World Congress Center -- a meeting for Sam's Club and another for American Rental brought thousands in the first quarter -- complemented established shows like Hinman Dental, which set a record this year with 23,000 attendees, said Katy Pando, a spokeswoman for GWCC.
"Good attendance is good business for everybody," she said.
Also contributing to the turnaround is an improving economy and good weather, which is bringing tourists in to visit the city's attractions, Howard said.
The city's uptick in occupancy is even surprising industry analysts.
To get a more accurate picture of how hotels are faring, analysts look at RevPAR -- the average daily rate for Atlanta hotels, divided by the average occupancy rate. PKF Consulting had forecast RevPAR to increase 3 percent in the first quarter, said Mark Woodworth, PKF executive vice president. It actually increased 4.8 percent.
"The trend is moving in a very positive direction," Woodworth said. "And what I have gleaned from the first quarter is that business travel is up 10 to 12 percent."
RevPAR should grow 7 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, he said.
At the Sheraton Atlanta, occupancy increased 10 percent in the first quarter over the same period last year, said Paul Breslin, general manger. RevPAR is 11.7 percent.
"I think the worst is over," he said about the three-year slump. "I think we've made the turn."
But it's not only the increase in foot traffic that has the industry glowing. Breslin said he has seen an increase in spending for add-on items, like higher-priced meals and use of more audio-visual equipment, a hint that companies and organizations are loosening the purse strings. "For us it means more ancillary dollars," said Breslin.
-----To see more of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.ajc.com
(c) 2004, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. WMT,