By ALEX JACKSON
The Capital of Annapolis
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Annapolis hoteliers said bad weather and cuts in government travel allowances have reduced the number of visitors staying downtown. But some of the loss, they said, is from groups that have been taking their reunions and other gatherings elsewhere.
Fewer people stayed in downtown Annapolis hotels in June, July and August this year than in any year since 2009, according to data from Tennessee-based Smith Travel Research.
August turned out to be a particularly bad month for downtown hotels, with occupancy rates for the 21401 ZIP code more like those of March. The rate fell 7.5 percent from August of the prior year to 65.9 percent. August saw the first month-by-month decline in downtown hotels’ revenue since July 2011.
Meanwhile, occupancy and revenue were up nationally, and at most other tourist hubs in the state, in August.
Downtown Baltimore hotels saw a 14.1 percent spike in occupancy in August compared to that month last year. In Linthicum, home to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, occupancy was up 1 percent in August compared to the prior year; there were 8 and 6 percent increases in June and July, respectively.
Lauren Miguez, director of sales and marketing at The Westin Annapolis, said it’s not time to panic. But The Westin has been booking fewer group travelers than usual.
“Could it be the election?” Miguez said. “Could it be people are cutting back? The weather has been a little off this year. I think there’s a lot of factors involved.”
August wasn’t bad for all local innkeepers. Flag House Inn, a five-room bed and breakfast at 29 Randall St., saw an uptick in visitors during the month, as it has throughout this year, co-owner Charlotte Schmickle said.
But occupancy was also down — mainly because of group bookings — at another of the city’s large hotels, Loews Annapolis. Jennifer Howie, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, said the business’ new restaurant, WEST Kitchen & Tavern, still managed to exceed expectations in its opening month.
Howie said Annapolis tends to compete with other cities, such as Charleston, S.C., for the patronage of groups that like to vary their meeting places from year to year. Charleston had an 8 percent increase in occupancy in August.
Howie said new regulations on government travel from the U.S. General Services Administration also have had an impact this year.
Still, she thinks momentum is growing for Annapolis and marketing efforts by the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau will capture more group business and tourism.
Connie Del Signore, the visitors bureau’s president, said the tax revenue the county has collected from hotels is up 4 percent this year.
Some hotels, she said, may be struggling to book government business, as government employees just aren’t spending as much money now. But she didn’t have an explanation for why group business would be lagging.
“What individual hotels are doing, I couldn’t comment on that,” she said.
Groups, said Miguez of The Westin, account for a big portion of hotel revenue, particularly when it comes to money made from food and beverages.
Miguez said the weather has hurt business. When the weather is nice, she said, the Westin can have as many as 50 rooms booked at the last minute for the weekends. That hasn’t been happening lately, she said.
Data also indicate that those who came to Annapolis this summer shortened the length of their stays.
This included those who booked rooms for Plebe Parents’ Weekend at the U.S. Naval Academy, which always fills city hotels on an August weekend. The Thursday before this year’s weekend event, hotel occupancy was nearly 8 percent below the equivalent time last year, according to numbers from Smith Travel Research.
The decline in the number of visitors has been noticed by some at City Dock. At Watermark Tours — which relies on day-trippers who don’t stay in hotels — July business was “terrible” and the dip continued through August, said Debbie Gosselin, the firm’s president.
A lot of it could have been the weather, she said. July was hot, and August’s heavy rains definitely washed away some of her tour money, Gosselin said.
“Things are supposed to be getting better,” she said.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)