|By Sara K. Clarke, Orlando
SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 13, 2013--Hotels in the Orlando area are expected in 2013 to see improved results again, thanks mainly to higher average room rates.
The nation's second-largest hotel market, with nearly 120,000 rooms, is forecast to fill 68.8 percent of them on an average night this year, on par with last year's overall occupancy rate, according to Smith Travel Research, which tracks hotels nationwide.
The bright spot for the industry would be the average daily room price, which Smith Travel forecasts will rise 4.6 percent compared with last year, to $101.23 a night.
In terms of construction, the biggest hotel opening this year is expected to be the 652-room Avanti Resort, an overhaul of the former Econo Lodge at 8738 International Drive, which fell into foreclosure after the 2007-09 recession.
The Avanti, now owned by a Brazilian company, will be operated by Orlando-based Paramount Hospitality Management when it opens in late February. That debut is later than initially scheduled because of construction delays blamed on the building's age.
Downtown Orlando also gets a new hotel this year: Aloft, a 118-room Starwood-brand property slated to open in July in the former Orlando Utilities Commission headquarters building. Other openings this year include the 128-room Homewood Suites by Hilton Orlando Airport and, in Winter Park, the 112-room Alfond Inn at Rollins College.
Orlando's convention-and-meeting industry expects a challenging year, as several big-name trade shows have rotated out of the giant Orange County Convention Center to other destinations.
The convention center expects about a 6 percent increase in the number of "citywide events" booked into the giant complex -- the kind of events that generally occupy 60,000 square feet or more of exhibit space or require at least 1,500 hotel rooms. Still, the center also says overall attendance is expected to fall about 21 percent compared with last year's total, because many of its 2013 shows are smaller.
Among the holes the center has to fill this year: the National Association of Home Builders, which drew 51,455 people to the convention center in January 2012 but this year begins a four-year run in Las Vegas instead. Other big shows taking place elsewhere after 2012 appearances in Orlando include: the National Plastics Expo, with an estimated 60,000 people, which won't be back until 2015; Performance Racing Industry, with 37,500 people, which has moved to Indianapolis; Star Wars Celebration, with 32,000 people, which returns in 2014; and the tile-and-stone trade show Coverings, with 30,000 people, which returns in 2015.
Kathie Canning, the new executive director of the county-run center, said 2013 has been on the staff's radar as a potential problem for the past five years or so. Even now, center officials are hoping to fill some of the holes in their calendar with last-minute business.
"We feel very confident that we will be able to book some events in the short term," Canning said.
Convention-and-meeting activity generally in North America is expected to remain unchanged this year compared with 2012, according to the American Express Meetings & Events 2013 Forecast. Globally, corporate and association meeting budgets are not likely to grow in step with costs, forcing some companies to switch from hosting national events to planning regional ones, the survey found.
The good news for Orlando: The forecast expects it to be the top meeting destination in 2013, followed by Washington and Las Vegas.
TravelClick, another company that monitors hotel performance, has also noted that group business, after 18 months of solid gains, appears to be leveling off.
"We will be monitoring this closely to see if business and individuals are 'pausing' before making large group commitments until after the New Year," said Tim Hart, executive vice president of enterprise research and development for TravelClick.
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