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Hoteliers sleep easier as fewer beds go empty

Downtown, Lloyd Center inns register 4-year high in occupancy rates

Hotels in downtown Portland and the Lloyd District recorded a 66 percent occupancy rate in the first five months of 2003, the highest rate in four years, and a 12.4 percent increase from the same period in 2002.

'I simply cannot complain,' said Craig Thompson, general manager of the 5th Avenue Suites, an upscale hotel in downtown. 'May and June have just been spectacular.'

'It just seems like the volume in general has picked up,' said Stephanie Cameron, director of sales at Embassy Suites Hotel Downtown Portland. 'I'm hoping it's a trend we're going to continue for quite some time.'

Thompson said two big Portland conventions in May helped fill hotel rooms, resulting in an occupancy rate far better than in May 2002.

'We've had a full house since late May, and we're at 100 percent occupancy till the beginning of August,' said Marie Saturn, general manager of RiverPlace Hotel.

'We have that resort feeling here,' she said of the 85-room hotel, which is on the Willamette River at the edge of downtown.

Any hotelier would agree that it's about time for some better news in the hotel business, which was nailed first by the downturn in the economy, then by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and more recently by fear of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

The statistics have been grim: Hotel occupancy in downtown Portland and the Lloyd District was 58.7 percent for January through May 2002; for the 120 hotels in the Portland metropolitan area, it fell even further in the same time period, dropping to 54.5 percent.

The statistics come from Smith Travel Research, which the Portland Oregon Visitors Association employs to do a detailed monthly survey.

Nationwide, hotel occupancy was 59.3 percent for all of 2002 ÑÊthe worst figures in 39 years. Industry analysts are predicting slight hotel business growth across the country this year.

Even though the numbers are promising, they're a long way from what Deborah Hall Wakefield of the visitors' association calls the banner years for Portland hotels. That would be 1996 and 1997, when annual occupancy rates in downtown and the Lloyd District hit nearly 80 percent.

The room boom in the 1990s, along with Oregon's jazzy business climate, brought several new hotels into the market in the late 1990s.

'They all sort of decided to build at the same time, because it was such a good market,' said Wakefield, the association's communications director. 'As they came on line, it chipped away at the overall occupancy rates.'

For the first five months of 2000, metro area occupancy rates averaged 60 percent; they dropped to 58 percent in 2001 and plummeted to 54.5 percent for the first five months of 2002. In 2003, the rate was 58.1 percent.

The hotel glut and the down economy have combined for another effect, one that might cheer travelers but isn't drawing any hurrahs from Portland hotel operators: declining room rates.

The average daily rate in downtown/Lloyd District hotels, $107.95 in 2000, has fallen to $100.84 today. Metro area hotel rooms, which averaged $84.85 in May 2000, have sunk to $81.39.

Meanwhile, Wakefield said hoteliers are 'leveraging every opportunity' to bring in guests. The number of participants has climbed steadily in the 'Big Deals' and 'Cool Summer Deals' promotions. Both are promotions of the visitors' association and offer discounted room rates when reservations are booked through the association, either online or by phone.

The number of hotels participating in Cool Summer Deals jumped this year to 42, about a dozen more than in 2002. 'I think part of it is that the economy is so iffy right now that people are looking for every marketing venue that's available,' Wakefield said.

'That's just a booking engine,' she said, praising the Big Deals promo. The association 'has done a great job playing in the e-channel market,' she noted.

'You're still doing everything you can to fill your hotel,' said RiverPlace's Saturn. 'It's just playing the rate game while keeping your integrity.'

Thompson said leisure travelers are staying closer to home, driving or taking the train instead of flying Ñ and waiting until the 'very, very last minute' to book.

Contact Jeanie Senior at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .