|By Sara K. Clarke, Orlando
SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 23, 2012--Orlando's hotel industry stalled out during the slow month of September, as hoteliers filled fewer rooms and charged lower average prices than a year ago.
According to a new survey from Smith Travel Research, hotels in the Orlando area filled 55.2 percent of their rooms this September, compared with 56.5 percent during September 2011. The average daily rate for the market fell 1.4 percent to $80.35.
September is typically not a busy month for Central Florida hotels, with children having returned to school and conventions still near low ebb. The local market underperformed the south Atlantic region and the nation as a whole, both of which saw relatively flat occupancy and rising room rates during the month.
Locally, the key tourist corridors of Lake Buena Vista and International Drive both reported declines in occupancy, while the north Orlando and central Orlando submarkets -- known for catering to business travelers -- reported gains.
"September was a very disappointing month for us, and it was primarily attributed to a lack of group business or convention business," said Greg Hauenstein, area managing director of the Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa, a 1,014-room hotel near Walt Disney World. "On the flip side, our leisure business saw a nice uptick from what we saw last year."
The decline in the occupancy rate in the Lake Buena Vista area was attributed in part to an increase in room supply. Smith Travel Research reported the number of rooms available in the submarket grew by 6.1 percent compared with a year ago.
Disney World, whose hotels do not participate in Smith Travel's monthly surveys, opened its giant Art of Animation Resort earlier this year for budget-minded travelers.
Michael Terry, a professor in the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management, said the area is also feeling the effects of the addition or renovation of several big hotels that are all hunting the same type of business -- large groups, such as meetings and conventions.
"Lake Buena Vista -- in my mind, they're showing some signs of all that new product out there," he said.
Hauenstein, at the Buena Vista Palace, said that business appears to be picking up.
"In October, we're seeing an uptick over last year. November will be up over last year, and December and the holidays look very promising," he said.
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