Hoteliers Confront Greater Supply, Less Demand

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Mike Moliterno, general manager of the Holiday Inn-Boardman, is frank about the local hotel industry.

“We’re holding our own,” he says, as he notes that anyone in the business who says it isn’t “a little bit challenging” is holding back.

“We try to be very active sales-wise and we’ve done a good job of doing that and brought in a lot of group business,” he says. “Things aren’t ideal but I think we’ve done pretty well.

“We’re still pretty good for the summer,” Moliterno continues. “We always need to be on our game every day but probably it’s more important now than ever, and the consumer benefits from some tighter pricing than a couple of years ago.”

There is less demand for rooms and a greater supply resulting from many openings of new properties in recent years, he notes. “Obviously we had some great years with the oil and gas business and that’s not around now.”

Total inventory in Mahoning County is 2,304 rooms, which includes bed-and-breakfast inns and smaller hotels. Major or flagship hotels represent 1,888 rooms, says Linda Macala, executive director of the Mahoning County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Hotel openings in recent years added more than 400 rooms to the number available in the county. Among them are Candlewood Suites in Austintown, which opened in September 2014, adding 77 rooms, and Best Western Plus in Boardman, which added 67 rooms in February 2015. Two more properties opened last June – Courtyard by Marriott in Canfield adding 110 rooms and Holiday Inn Express-Salem (on land in Mahoning County), which added 71. California Palms, which reopened in April 2015 in Austintown, added 100 rooms, Macala says.

Receipts from the county bed tax totaled $1.66 million in 2015, compared with $1.64 million in 2014, Macala says. “Based on bed tax collections over the last three years, I can say that demand in our area has remained very steady,” she says.

“We remain optimistic for modest growth in 2016. Of course, any time a new property is built, that means more competition for existing hotels.”

Home2 Suites by Hilton, an extended-stay property, is under construction in Austintown and will bring another 87 rooms with its anticipated opening at the end of the year. Work is expected to begin soon on the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in the Stambaugh Building in downtown Youngstown.

At the Courtyard by Marriot in Canfield, booking activity is “very good” overall, reports Katie Betts, director of sales. “We have a lot of wedding groups in house this summer and all the way into the beginning of November,” she says. So far, 10 weekends are sold out. While weddings drive the weekend traffic, business-related activity drives bookings during the week.

“You never know [what response will be] with a new property and we’re not the only hotel here,” Betts notes.

  1. Lynne Biery, owner of the Sebring Mansion Inn & Spa in Sebring, reports business so far this year is better than last, but “not markedly. We’ve noticed an uptick every year,” she observe. “Of course, the more media coverage we get, we pick up more bookings.”

Because the property is “off the beaten path,” market saturation isn’t an issue. “We sit close to the borders of Columbiana County, Portage County and Stark County, so we’re pulling from all of those counties,” Biery says.

Biery expects the proposed downtown Youngstown hotel to fill unmet demand in that market. She attended the recent Elton John concert at the Covelli Centre downtown and ended up staying at a Holiday Inn on the outskirts of the city. “It would have been nice to park and just go the hotel there,” she remarks.

At the Comfort Suites Youngstown North in Girard, bookings have improved since its opening in February, says general manager Renee Ryan. “The needle is moving steadily but slowly. Things are going in the right direction.”

At the Fairfield Inn Warren-Niles, general manager Phil Mays reports sales this spring are down year-over-year. “Other hotels are showing the same trend,” he says, as reflected in the Smith Travel Accommodations Report, known in the industry as Star. He attributes the drop in part to the economy.

“Additionally, the Northeast in general had a boost last year with the weather, and this year we’re not seeing weather-related stays that we saw last year,” he says.

Mays acknowledges the possibility of seeing bookings related to this summer’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland. “As far as being an outlying tertiary market, we are not seeing that activity yet, but I anticipate last-minute bookings,” he says.

So far, Stephanie Sferra, executive director of the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau, says she hasn’t heard a sound from local hotel operators regarding business resulting from the GOP convention. “The hoteliers I’ve spoken to have not said a word,” she says.

Unlike in Mahoning County, where concern has been expressed about market saturation, the Trumbull County hospitality market is “regaining what we lost,” Sferra reports.

“When you’re looking at the hotel rooms that went away with the MetroPlex or with the Ramada Inn, you’re talking close to 300 rooms,” she continues. “With the new Residence Inn and the new Comfort Suites that just came online, and with the Hampton Inn that’s due to open at the end of the year, we won’t even reach what we lost, but we’re getting there.”

Trumbull County collections from the bed tax totaled $852,569 in 2015, up more than $50,000 from $801,867 in 2014.

The properties that opened or about to open in Trumbull County provide brand-loyal visitors with “a cross selection of brands” that the county hasn’t had for a while, Sferra says.

Some hotels, such as the Residence Inn in Niles, report occupancy around 90%, while the Hampton Inn on Belmont Avenue reports around 75%, she says.

“It varies. It varies by who they’re attracting. It varies by who they have contracts with,” she points out. “The Residence Inn had a contract with General Motors for the engineers that came to retool the Cruze. That resulted in 6,000 room nights over the past year. That was a lot of rooms.”

The Avalon Inn in Howland is in the midst of a three-phase renovation and expansion project. Phase 1, which involved remodeling guest rooms and the addition of a new swimming pool, is nearly complete. Phase 2, an addition to the east side of the hotel, should be finished in a month, Jeff Shaffer says. Shaffer is membership director at Avalon Golf and Country Club, an affiliated property.

Phase 3 consists of another addition to the building that will offer a Roman bath and an outdoor pool. It could get underway this fall. “When these three phases are done,” Shaffer promises, “this resort will rival any of the fine resorts that you’ve been to.”

The Trumbull visitors’ bureau never removed the Avalon Inn’s room numbers from the county’s total of available rooms because the hotel remained open during the renovation, Sferra says. In late April, the property offered 111 of the 132 rooms it will have available once the guest rooms are renovated.

The Avalon Inn offers a conference center, which fills another need for the county, at least partially. “We haven’t been able to sell to small meetings and business conferences because we haven’t had the infrastructure,” Sferra says. “With the new conference center coming on at Eastwood Mall, we’ll answer some of those requests, plus the Comfort Suites on Belmont eventually will have a conference center.”

Requests for proposals for the Eastwood Event Centre at the Eastwood Mall Complex have been sent to parties that expressed interest in operating the 30,000-square-foot property, reports Joe Bell, spokesman for the Cafaro Co., which owns and operates the mall complex.

“We expect to award a contract to a qualified operator and build out the facility this year,” he says. “Conservatively speaking, it should be available for public booking by early 2017.”

Pictured: Home2 Suites by Hilton, an extended-stay property, is under construction on Interstate Drive in Austintown.

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