|By Dale Quinn, The Arizona Daily Star,
TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 4, 2008 - Resorts in the Tucson area are working hard to fill empty rooms, slashing prices and offering special packages as the peak travel season approaches.
The sputtering economy has cautious consumers tightening their belts and spending less on travel, according to those in the industry, and that means more vacancies at local resorts.
In September, Tucson resorts saw a 12 percent decline in occupancy and room demand when compared with the same month last year, according to figures from Tennessee-based Smith Travel Research. Those resorts also saw an 8 percent decrease in revenue per available room.
Occupancy and room demand have been lower every month this year when compared with the same month in 2007. It may be a while before the trend swings in the other direction, resort officials said.
"I don't see a speedy turnaround, I think we're going to see a fairly tepid environment going into 2009," said Lynn Ericksen, the general manager of Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort.
The resort at 10000 N. Oracle Road is offering a bed-and-breakfast package -- starting at $119 per night -- that includes a room and a meal in the morning, Ericksen said. There's also a golf package for two that starts at $189 per night, he said.
Such discounts are unusual for the time of year when Tucson becomes a desirable travel destination, said Mark Lindsey, a spokesman for the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa.
The Westin La Paloma, at 3800 E. Sunrise Drive, is offering guests 50 percent off the cost of a room starting on the fourth night of a stay, Lindsey said. It also has a family package with a $50 resort credit, he said.
Resorts rely heavily on business conventions, and a decline in that travel is also pushing the occupancy rate down, said Michael Dominguez, a spokesman for Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. Many businesses, already struggling with the economic situation, are waiting for conditions to improve before planning a big conference, he said.
More than half of a large hotel's business can come from conventions and group meetings, resort officials said. When the businesses cut back on those expenses, the resort industry takes a hit, they said.
"These are the times that you see our economy is so tied together," Dominguez said.
Loews Ventana Canyon, at 7000 N. Resort Drive, near North Kolb Road and East Sunset Drive, is offering a corporate benefits package that gives business travelers a food and beverage credit. The longer a traveler stays, the larger the credit.
Among other specials, the resort is offering rooms that start at $149 per night -- usually in-season rooms start at $279 a night, said spokeswoman Jennifer Duffy.
Also a factor is the declining number of flights at Tucson International Airport, said Alan Klein, the general manager of the Westward Look Resort, 245 E. Ina Road.
Westward Look, which has nearly finished renovating its rooms at a cost of $10 million, is also offering discounts. Rooms are starting at $139 that would normally go for $179 to $209, Klein said.
Resort officials said this is the worst slowdown they've seen in the industry since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Klein the discounts, in part, are to attract Tucsonans to think about staying at a resort in their hometown.
The idea is to entice people who wouldn't typically stay in their own backyard, he said. "But now they're thinking twice because it's cheaper to stay in town sometimes," he said.
Follow the local tourism industry at www.azstarbiz.com
Local resorts are offering deep discounts and special packages on other amenities. Here are some of the lowest rates at some local resorts (restrictions may apply).
--Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort, $119 per night
--Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, $149 per night
--Westward Look Resort, $139 per night
--The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, 50 percent off the cost of a room on the fourth night.
--Contact reporter Dale Quinn at 573-4197 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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