|By Sara K. Clarke, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 24, 2008 --Hotels of all kinds, from luxury to budget, felt some of the pain shooting through the economy in June, as Metro Orlando's lodging market recorded its biggest year-over-year drop in occupancy in more than a year.
Local hotels' occupancy averaged 70.4 percent last month, down 5.1 percent from June 2007, according to a report released late Tuesday by Smith Travel Research, whose monthly survey does not include Walt Disney World hotels.
The average room rate increased 1.7 percent, to $101.29.
In addition to the obvious suspects -- rising gas prices and a sluggish economy -- Florida's school schedules may have played a role in June's occupancy decline."What we were hearing was it seemed to be the shift in the school calendar," said Danielle Courtenay, a spokeswoman for the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The 2007-08 school year was the first under a new state law saying classes couldn't start more than two weeks before Labor Day; as a result, many Florida school districts didn't release students for summer vacation until the first week of June, rather than the week before Memorial Day.
"The first week was quite soft," said Daryl Cronk, the bureau's director of research, but the situation improved in the latter part of June.
Orlando's budget hotels fared best in June, with an average occupancy that fell just 0.8 percent, though their average room rate was down.
Upscale hotels reported the largest decline in occupancy -- 7.3 percent on average -- but managed to raise their average room rate.
Geographically, the west Kissimmee submarket near Disney was hardest hit, with average occupancy down 18.2 percent compared with a year earlier.
The east Kissimmee submarket fared best, with a 2.5 percent gain.
Paul Tang, vice president and managing director of the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, said occupancy has generally been on a slow decline because of fuel prices and the economy.
People are booking more at the last minute, he said, and not staying quite as long as they used to.
"I guess you just have to hang in there and see which way it's going to turn," Tang said. "It's manageable."
Through the first half of the year, Metro Orlando's average occupancy rate was down 0.7 percent.
The average room rate through the first six months was $114.61, a 2.6 percent increase from the same period last year.
"We had a great year last year in '07," Courtenay said. "If we come out through this [in 2008] and are flat, that will be successful."
Sara K. Clarke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5664.
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