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Early Easter Leaves Orlando Hotels with April Hangover
as Occupancy Slides Downward 3%

By Sara K. Clarke, Orlando SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 22, 2013--After four months of year-over-year growth, business dipped in April at Orlando-area hotels, likely because of an early Easter this year and the absence of a couple of big conventions in town.

Hotels in the Orlando market filled 72.6 percent of their rooms last month, compared with 75.6 percent in April 2012, and the average daily room price slipped 1 percent to $105.66, according to the latest survey data from Smith Travel Research.

Hoteliers were battling calendar headwinds this April: Easter, which dictates the timing of many schools' spring-break vacations, fell on March 31 this year compared with April 8 last year. That meant more of the area's spring-break business was compressed into March this year instead of spread throughout April.

Indeed, it was the second week of April that was particularly in "the pits," said Michael Terry, an instructor in the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management. Key economic indicators -- including consumer confidence, airfare prices and travel forecasts -- remained positive, he said, indicating that April's declines could be blamed mostly on the calendar.

"I think we'll see a bounce-back in May," Terry said.

Some of the decrease in the industry's indicators last month may also have been due to the absence of large conventions, especially in the International Drive submarket, which caters to both leisure and convention travelers and declined in April at nearly twice the rate of the market as a whole.

The Orange County Convention Center hosted four "city-wide"-sized events in April 2012 that as a group drew nearly 102,000 people. This April, the center hosted 11 city-wide events that attracted only about 59,000 people combined.

Two shows in particular -- the giant plastics expo NPE and the tile-and-stone trade show Coverings -- took place in Orlando last year but not this year. Those two alone accounted for approximately 75,000 people. Both shows are scheduled to return again to the county-run convention center in 2015, center spokeswoman Gwen Wilson said.

The loss of those big conventions didn't hurt the Peabody Orlando, which is located right next to the sprawling, county-run center on International Drive. Alan Villaverde, the hotel's managing director, said the Peabody benefited from other conventions and in-house events and had a "stupendous" month.

"We had the best April in 27 years," he said.

Doug Barrow, general manager of the Four Points by Sheraton on International Drive, said his hotel recorded an increase in occupancy but a decrease in its average room rate. He attributed the dip in price to the absence this year of NPE and the other conventions, which boosted rates significantly last April when they were in town.

"I like Easter to fall later. But more than Easter, I'd like to have those city-wide conferences," Barrow said. or 407-420-5664


(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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