August 16, 2008 in Business

County hotel occupancy flat, and that’s good

By The Spokesman-Review

Spokane County hotel occupancy has been flatter than a king-sized bed in 2008 and that speaks well of the community, industry analysts said Friday.

Two-thirds of 15 major convention markets in the United States have reported off years, said Lindsey Culbreath, director of sales for Kentucky-based Smith Travel Services.

Spokane occupancy, at just less than 60 percent, is down less than 1 percent in 2008, a performance helped by increases in downtown visits.

By comparison, Boise is down 9 percent, as is Phoenix.

“You’re doing very well,” Culbreath told an audience of hotel managers organized by the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Bureau President Harry Sladich said Smith and other consultants were hired to give the area’s hospitality industry a better idea of who and where their customers are, and how they can attract more of them.

For example, he said, hotel owners have resisted participation in travel packages that include airline tickets and attractions like the region’s golf courses.

David Spencer, Travelocity marketing manager for Washington, Idaho and Montana, said 17 percent of the rooms booked in Spokane are packaged, far below the industry average. Consumers have been conditioned to buy everything from fast food to communications that way, he said, and travel deals that include 15 percent to 20 percent reductions in room charges will do well by participating hotels.

Package deals fill 37 percent of Missoula hotel rooms, said Spencer, whose company estimates customers using its online site save an average $240 when flights, rooms and attractions are combined.

Jerry Rosenquist, director of business development for Ruf Strategic Solutions, noted that Spokane attracts travelers in the 45- to 64-year-old age group who are well-educated, have above-average incomes and live in well-established neighborhoods. Overwhelmingly, they are married.

Spokane, he said, has to consider whether it would be best to focus marketing efforts on attracting more such travelers, or focus on underrepresented groups like the young.

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