|By Mike Gorrell, The Salt Lake
TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 23, 2010--The last time Utah hotels had a month with occupancy levels better than a year earlier was in April 2008.
Although still not good, January's numbers came close to snapping that string of negativity at 21 months. And that breeds optimism in the mind of Utah Hotel and Lodging Association executive director Michael Johnson.
"We've been expecting this," he said Monday. "Overall, we'll probably end up doing better in occupancy in 2010, compared to 2009."
Statewide occupancy last month averaged 52.5 percent, just 1 percent less than in January 2009. For all of 2009, Utah hotels filled 6.8 percent fewer rooms than in 2008.
In Salt Lake County, home to about half of Utah's hotel rooms, last month's rebound was not quite as strong. January's occupancy rate (59 percent) was down 2.9 percent from the same month a year earlier. But as in the statewide numbers, January's shortfall was small when compared with 2009's overall decline of 7.6 percent.
And hotels in the southern Salt Lake Valley actually had a better month in January than a year earlier, filling about 3.2 percent more rooms on a nightly basis.
Monthly figures from the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Lodging Report showed that the rise of average nightly room rates was lagging behind the occupancy recovery.
Hoteliers statewide charged about $4 less per night last month than in January of '09. In Salt Lake County, the year-to-year drop was closer to $5.
could be two to three years before we see rates come back, even if we see increasing occupancy," Johnson said.
"That's great for consumers. A lot of properties are offering better rates and more value-added services than we've seen in years," he added, noting that Europeans have been taking advantage of this perk on top of gains from favorable currency-exchange rates.
"Flight prices are still down, too, so there are lots of opportunities for travel that will bring those occupancy rates up this year," Johnson said.
The St. George area already showed improvement in January -- 39.6 percent of rooms filled nightly, up from 33.4 percent a year earlier.
"That's a good kickoff" for the banner months of February, March and April, said Roxie Sherwin, director of the St. George Area Convention & Tourism Bureau.
"Presidents Day weekend was full, we have a couple of weekends in March that are sold out and the first weekend in May," she added. "We're expecting a good spring. It's all getting better."
Hotels in Davis and Utah counties and Cedar City also had slightly higher occupancy rates last month than a year earlier. The most disappointing results were turned in by mountain resort communities -- 54.6 percent last month, down from 59.3 percent in January '09.
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