|By Sara K. Clarke, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 1, 2010 --Snowbirds and race fans gave many Orlando-area hotels a boost in February, and warmer weather since then has some hoteliers optimistic about the spring.
Orlando hotels filled 64.4 percent of their rooms in February, according to the latest report by Smith Travel Research, which tracks hotels in markets across the country. February's average occupancy was down only slightly -- 0.3 percent -- from the same month last year.
Many parts of the local market recorded gains in occupancy, including north Orlando, downtown Orlando and International Drive. Occupancy in the south Orlando submarket was up the most, 7.5 percent, probably as a result of last fall's opening of the Waldorf Astoria Orlando and the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek near Walt Disney World.
"We had a good February and we've got a good March under our belt," said Tom Parke, the Waldorf's marketing director. "Both the leisure and the group segments coming to Orlando are very encouraging."
February is a key month for Orlando-area hotels because they can usually charge higher room rates, thanks to snowbirds flocking South for warm, sunny weather and race fans visiting the region for signature events at Daytona International Speedway, said Scott Smith, a lodging instructor with the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management.
According to Smith Travel, the Orlando market's average room price continued to slide in February, falling 8.1 percent to $98.51 a night compared with a year ago. Revenue per available room, a key industry measure, fell 8.4 percent to $63.49.
Smith (who is not associated with Smith Travel) said he thinks the slumping market has "bottomed out," with people beginning to travel more often. He noted that during this year's race week in Daytona Beach, which culminates on Sunday with NASCAR's Daytona 500, some Orlando-area hotels reported being full on Friday and Saturday nights with spillover business.
Of course, "In the old days, we used to fill Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,Thursday, Friday and Saturday of that week," Smith added.
And not everyone had a good month: Some hoteliers expected a lackluster turnout, and that's what they got.
"February was not pretty," said Duane Winjum, general manager of Royale Parc Suites on U.S. Highway 192 in Kissimmee. "There were a number of large conventions that historically we had seen in Feburary in this market that rotated out [this year]."
Jay Leonard, general manager of the Regal Sun Resort at Walt Disney World, said he was happy with his hotel's February occupancy.
Leonard said he expects to fill more than 90 percent of his hotel's rooms during the Passover- Easter period.
"We're seeing a little bit of occupancy lift year-over-year, especially over the Easter weekend," he said. "We're filled, we're excited."
Orlando hotel's February
Avg. occupancy Change (yr. vs. yr.)
Sara K. Clarke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5664.
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