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Sunday, January 19, 2020
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Dana Weighs In On Savannah Hotel Occupancy Rates

Category: Hospitality & Tourism

By Ted Carter
SBJ Contributor

Savannah hoteliers can take some solace in reports that the city’s room rates are not seeing the same percentage drops as most competiting visitor destinations.
But the free-fall in rates is expected to continue nationwide, and Savannah could see a further decline of from 12 percent to 20 percent, says local hotel executive Mark Dana, current president of the Savannah Tourism Leadership Council.
That drop would be in addition to Savannah’s 14.2 percent rate decline reported for July from the same month last year, according to Dana.
Other destinations in Savannah’s market category have taken even harder hits. “We’re faring pretty well against Charleston and Fort Lauderdale,” he said.
So it could be worse, he added.
Meanwhile, occupancy and rate declines nationally have threatened to send some hotels into bankruptcy as they struggle to pay down debt.  A year ago, according to the Wall Street Journal, hotel debt in the United States considered to be in distress stood at $1.6 billion. Today it totals $18 billion, the national business newspaper reported last month. The distressed category includes hotel debt that is either delinquent, in bankruptcy proceedings, in foreclosure or under restructuring.
The $18 billion “is a little bit frightening,” Dana told Tourism Leadership Council members at the organization’s Sept. 17 lunch meeting at the Crab Shack.
Even at the lower rates, hotels nationwide are having trouble attracting guests as occupancy levels have fallen to 64 percent – “the lowest since tracking started,” Dana said.
On the positive side, Savannah saw a 6 percent occupancy increase in July over last year, according to the TLC.
Further encouraging is that the Savannah Area Convention & Visitors Bureau is ahead of last year’s pace in booking large meetings that require two or more hotels to accommodate, Dana said.
With the business visitor, which takes in those here for conventions and meetings, the task will be to counter a growing tendency of business and organizations to rely on new technology to keep them in touch, Dana noted.
Things like electronic company halls are starting to replace in-person meetings and training sessions. Combine that with a reluctance of businesses and organizations to spend on travel and hotel stays, and the thinking becomes: “the only certainty is uncertainty,” Dana said.
On the leisure side there is some encouragement from an expected trend of baby boomers retiring and having their grandchildren accompany them to visitor destinations. Three million boomers turned 62 this year, and others born to the post-war generation will continue to retire through 2025. “We’ll have more grandparents than we’ve ever had before,” Dana said.
More immediately, some additional hiring can be expected in the Savannah hospitality sector as the more active visitor periods of February-April and May-June approach, according to Dana.
Hospitality industry trends will be the subject of an 8 a.m. breakfast gathering Oct. 8 at the Hilton Savannah DeSoto Hotel. Presented by the Tourism Leadership Council, the Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Tybee Island Tourism Council, the breakfast will feature national lodging analyst Peter Yesawich, principal of the Ypartnership. (Details: 232-1223)

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