Hotel trade boosts traffic

A strong year for Red Deer’s hotel sector in 2012 helped push occupancy rates toward pre-recession levels.

A strong year for Red Deer’s hotel sector in 2012 helped push occupancy rates toward pre-recession levels.

Statistics provided by Tourism Red Deer show that an average of 55.7 per cent of the available rooms in the city — including Gasoline Alley — were booked last year. That compared with 51 per cent in 2011.

The increase was good news for the tourism industry, said Liz Taylor, executive director of Tourism Red Deer.

“We upped our occupancy by almost five per cent.”

That jump followed a similar rise from 2010, when the local hotel occupancy rate was 47.1 per cent. The figure in 2009 was 46 per cent, following the onset of the economic downturn.

The local occupancy rate in 2008 was 58 per cent.

During the first half of 2013, the hotel occupancy rate in Red Deer slipped to around 55 per cent. But Taylor thinks this number will improve by year’s end.

“We believe it might even be up.”

This optimism is supported by traffic on the Tourism Red Deer website, which is a good indicator of the interest and intent of prospective visitors.

Trevor Tessier of e-marketing agency SBX Media, which administers the site, said visits are up about six per cent over 2012 — despite declines in May and June.

“August we’re up about 35 per cent alone,” he said.

Tessier and Taylor speculate that unseasonably cool weather this spring deterred some travellers, and the flooding in Southern Alberta may have also had an impact.

“A third of Alberta’s population was kind of preoccupied and not necessarily in the travel mood,” said Taylor, adding that many people who live away from the flooded areas also devoted time and resources to help the victims.

Tessier thinks activity on the Tourism Red Deer website could still end up 20 per cent above 2012 levels, which in turn were 47 per cent higher than in 2011.

“We’re confident we’re going to end the year strong,” agreed Taylor.

C.V. Sastry, assistant general manager at the Black Knight Inn, confirmed that 2012 was a good year for Red Deer’s hospitality industry. This year has been slower at his hotel, due to renovations and other site-specific factors, but Sastry is anticipating more good years ahead.

“We definitely are more optimistic,” he said. “I think overall in Red Deer we do have more tourists coming in.”

Sastry cautioned that year-over-year comparisons of hotel occupancy rates can be misleading, because the number of rooms can change.

Taylor agreed, noting that the 2008-09 drop-off was exacerbated by an increase in local hotel rooms. Since then, Hampton Inn and Suites and Holiday Inn & Suites have opened in Gasoline Alley.

“There’s been an increase in supply, and there’s certainly going to be a further increase in supply,” she said, pointing to the new Marriott TownPlace Suites being built in northwest Red Deer, and a Holiday Inn Express and a Staybridge Suites proposed for another location nearby.

A Microtel Inn and Suites has also been approved for Gasoline Alley.

Taylor pointed out that the city’s occupancy rate is on the low side, compared with other centres in Alberta. Calgary, for instance, posted a 70.5 per cent average last year. The figure for Edmonton was 66.5 per cent, in resorts like Banff and Jasper it was 56.4 per cent, and the average for the rest of the province was 61.5 per cent.

However, Red Deer had the greatest year-over-year increase in occupancy rates from 2011 to 2012, noted Taylor.

“We’re getting there, but we’re still below.”

Red Deer is also on the low end when it comes to average daily room rates. Its figure of $107.65 in 2012 compared with $156.04 in Calgary, $122.42 in Edmonton, $196.10 in resort communities and $120.79 for the rest of the province.

Taylor said the high cost of hotels rooms in Fort McMurray pulled up the provincial average.

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