|By Surge at East Valley hotels hints at
economic rebound By Garin Groff, The Tribune, Mesa,
Ariz.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 03, 2011--East Valley hotel bookings have surged in recent months in what tourism officials hope is a sign of a rebounding economy.
Hotels saw a boost in guests across the Valley, but nowhere was the jump as big as the East Valley's 26 percent increase. The numbers for January of this year compared to 2010 are part of a three-month long surge, said Robert Brinton, executive director of the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Several false starts have showed up recently, Brinton said, but it's been years since he's seen three months of growth in a row.
"And each month has been better than before," Brinton said. "It's very important from the standpoint that typically tourism is the leading indicator going into a recession and it's the lagging indicator coming out of the recession."
The occupancy rate for the Mesa/Chandler/Gilbert submarket stood at 52.5 percent in January 2010, jumping to 63.6 percent this year. The hotel industry calculates Tempe as its own area, where occupancy rates went from 57.5 percent to 64.0 percent.
Tempe hotels have reported more leisure travelers, said Michael Martin, vice president of the Tempe Convention and Visitors Bureau. New nonstop flights from Canada via WestJet have boosted the number of Canadians substantially, he said. A nasty winter in the Midwest has triggered inquiries at many hotels, as well.
Corporate and small group travel has been on the rise too, which Martin said is important because Tempe has many hotels that focus on that kind of traveler.
"That's a good sign for the economy as a whole and it's a welcome sign for us," Martin said.
Martin is encouraged by the trend but noted it will take time to match the peak of the market in 2007, when Tempe hotels were 78.6 percent full.
In another sign of strength, hotels have seen booking increase even as they've boosted their rates, Brinton said.
Brinton figures it will take years for tourism to fully recover but said the recent hotel news made him more confident than he's been in a long time.
"To me it says we're starting to come out it," he said. "I'm not ready to say 'Mission complete. We're out of the recession.' " I think that's going to be a very slow process. But to see growth in rates and occupancy for the first time in years, that's a significant sign to say watch this closely."
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