States of Hotels: Bad News for Hotels, Good News for Travelers

Smith Travel Research (STR) released data through Hotel News Now  (HNN) on the US hotel industry’s 3rd quarter performance. Numbers are still going down in the US. After a dismal 1st quarter 2009 when nationwide hotel occupancy was just over half full at 51.8%, which was probably viewed by most hoteliers as a hotel half-empty, the best hotel loyalty promotions in years possibly had some effect in raising occupancy in the past two quarters.

IHG Priority Club gave us four free nights anywhere in the world for staying 8 nights between May 4 and August 15.

Hyatt Gold Passport gave anyone who asked top elite Diamond status and a low threshold of 15 nights for renewal (normally requires 50 nights) through the summer months and immediately followed that up with the best loyalty promotion in years offering free nights, airline miles, and elite status for the same Hyatt hotel stays.

Starwood Preferred Guest offered a free weekend night for every two stays between May and July with the unusual benefit of Category 6 hotel redemption for the free nights. I spent about $1,800 and earned 8 free nights for stays in Starwood Hotels with average rates over $400 per night.

It was a year ago that the bottom fell out of the hotel market. I noticed steep room rate declines in the 4th quarter 2008 for areas I traveled. Prices dropped by 20% or more all along the west coast during a two week road trip I made from Monterey to Vancouver, Canada in the first half of November 2008.

The hotel industry is now looking to the 4th quarter 2009 for signs of improvement. Recent reports have suggested the luxury and upper upscale markets may be showing some signs of revived life, but this report using STR data indicates room rates will continue to drop for some time and may require several years just to get back to the room rates currently being offered . The room rate collapse of late 2008 is expected to result in smaller room rate declines than the previous three quarters when comparing year-over-year change in the 4th quarter 2009 hotel industry data.

For now, the market still looks fairly weak across the board. San Francisco has had high occupancy lately. My stays in the city last month revealed the lights were on in most rooms around the hotels of SoMa district near the Moscone convention center. San Francisco had over 90% occupancy in the first weeks of October.

And New York hotels are filled with a near 87% occupancy rate in mid-October.

So what is the bad part of the 3rd quarter news for hotels which will keep the loyalty bargains going for consumers?

Occupancy nationwide is just over 60.5% for the third quarter. These were the summer peak tourist season travel months of July, August, and September. The decline from last year was nearly 8%.

Average room rates for US hotels during these months dropped nearly 10% from last summer to $96.84. Considering the budget and economy sector hotels are already at rock-bottom rates with bare-thread profit margins, one would expect the declines are disproportionately due to drops in the midscale to upper-upscale/luxury hotel market.

The hotel industry in some locations like Houston (52.3% occupancy), Dallas (52% occupancy), and Phoenix (44.8% occupancy) is struggling with an over-supply of rooms for the current market conditions. Look for loyalty program offers. Phoenix has had some amazing discounts with hotels like the Fairmont Scottsdale offloading rooms for under $100 a night.

Hotel rates in New York City have fallen over 25% since last year. Sure there are some incredibly pricey hotels for some dates, but savvy shopping can uncover some knockout deals through Priceline, SkyAuction, Hotwire, and other outlets if you just want a fancy hotel at a bargain price without the loyalty amenities.

Denver, Colorado has been a great loyalty program destination for me over the past year. Rates in the mile-high city continue to plummet with a 21.3% decline year-over-year in the average room rate to just $90.72. Those loyalty program promotions offering a free night for two stays are the route to cheap luxury vacations in low-priced cities like Denver, Houston, and Phoenix.

Currently Hyatt is the only hotel loyalty promotion still offering free nights for every two stays through January 31. As the nation gears up for holiday family travel over the next two months, think about planning some hotel stays with high value. Spring vacation 2010 may still be pushing rates high in resort destinations. Shop now for the bargains, earn some points, miles, and free nights, and enjoy 2010 in the luxury of your own free hotel room.

Here is a snapshot graph I saw today of global hotel rates and occupancy by region from the STRGlobal website. While I have not been out of the USA much these past two years, my Loyalty Traveler strategies for vacation travel developed over the past decade due to the low cost of earning hotel points and free nights from stays in the US and redeeming most of my points and free nights in other countries where hotel rates are much higher.  



STR Global Hotel Index 10-28-2009

STR Global Hotel Index 10-28-2009

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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