Hotel, resort sectors looking for glimmers of hope as year unfolds - Tucson Local Media: Business

Hotel, resort sectors looking for glimmers of hope as year unfolds

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Posted: Tuesday, April 13, 2010 11:00 pm

Hotels, resorts and other lodging establishments throughout the Northwest continue to be affected by the economic recession, yet recent figures for occupancies have given a glimmer of hope to some operators.

Ed Stolmaker, executive director of the Marana Chamber of Commerce, said the occupancy picture is "overall positive and moving in the right direction, even though all the properties have been affected by the economy."

Dan Dickhart, director of sales and marketing for Omni Tucson National Resort, said the first two months of 2010 started out well for his property.

"Year to date we're doing well," Dickhart said. "We're about 27 percent up over the first quarter of 2009 and up 11 percent for February over the prior year."

While Dickhart admitted that 2009 was a down year from 2008, he's beginning to see commitments made from companies who are booking dates for conventions and meetings further into the future.

Dickhart said Omni Tucson National Resort once focused on 30 percent group bookings and 70 percent leisure and transient. That's changed, he said.

"We've turned that around so it's the exact opposite now," Dickhart said, "with the focus 70 percent on groups and 30 percent on transient and leisure packages."

Dickhart noted that having a four-star, five-diamond rated spa, and a restaurant (Bob's Steak and Chop House) with an award-winning chef (Miciah Beard, who won the 2010 Tucson Iron Chef title), helps make the property an attractive one.

"We like what we're seeing now and are cautiously optimistic for the rest of the year," Dickhart said.

At The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain in Marana, there are no comparable figures because the hotel only opened to the public last December. Stephen Deucker, director of sales and marketing, said that while he couldn't share any actual numbers, he felt the hotel was doing well.

"We feel like we're off to a pretty good start, especially in the group segment," Deucker said. "There's a whole lot of interest in this property, likely because it's new and there's not anything like it in the Ritz-Carlton portfolio."

Deucker noted the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain was featured on a travel piece on NBC's

"Today" show this week.

Deucker said the hotel had a lot of repeat Ritz-Carlton customers during the Christmas season, and also during the first two months of 2010.

"Accenture Match Play here in February was a help in creating transient leisure demand," he said, "and being new there's certainly a draw in that we're something different to try. We've seen a lot of new people from Phoenix, the Tucson region and southern Arizona."

Deucker said the hotel was doing some introductory pricing to try to attract customers new to the Ritz-Carlton brand.

"I'm not seeing doom and gloom," he said. "We're in a position where it's a great time to open a luxury hotel, and be new and different."

Lynn Ericksen, general manager of the Hotel El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort in Oro Valley, said that like all resorts, his hotel has suffered some negative impact from the recessionary economy and what he called "the AIG effect," referring to a financial organization that accepted federal bailout funds and then held a he noted.

"That's true of corporate America, the conventions and meetings market, and of the mom and dad individuals," Ericksen pointed out. "As people begin to travel again, we are starting to see things go in the other direction."

While Ericksen didn't provide any occupancy figures for his property, he noted the entire Tucson market was down "in the 20 percent-plus range, and the resort market overall was down in the 27 percent range in 2009. This is the worst economic environment our industry has seen in the last 50 to 60 years," he added.

An indicator of the difficult year faced by hotels and resorts can be found in sales tax collections for hotels. Erik Montague, finance director for the Town of Marana, reported that sales tax collections from hotels through December 2009 were 16.5 percent of what had been budgeted. Restaurant sales tax collections, some of which comes from hotels and resorts, were 46.6 percent of the town's budgeted figure. Overall, all of Marana's sales tax collections were 44.2 percent of the budgeted expectations.high-profile meeting for employees at a high end resort.

"The regrettable outcome has been the whole resort portion of the hotel and lodging community has suffered unjustifiable reductions in patronage because of that," Ericksen said.

For late 2008 and early 2009, Ericksen said, "We were seeing month after month of disappointing direction in terms of business volume because of the economy, but we're now cautiously optimistic about where demand is going. We have seen an increased demand in all sectors over the prior year at this time."

People are negotiating and expect to find the best possible value,

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