Company News

Travelers Book Rooms While They’re on the Road

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As travelers hit the road this summer, they’re more likely to book their hotel reservations en route to their destinations.

“More and more, people are booking their reservations on mobile phones and in shorter time frames,” observes Randy Budd, principal vice president of Radius Hospitality, which recently opened Comfort Suites Youngstown North in Liberty Township. “I wouldn’t be surprised if someone was pulling in and booking a room while still in the parking lot.”

The new hotel, just off the Interstate 80 interchange at Belmont Avenue, opened in February. “This exit used to be booming,” Budd says, “and we’re part of bringing it back.”

The hotel is in a prime location to capture traffic as it moves off the highway, he says. “It’s a huge generator for us. We’re getting people who don’t have reservations right off of I-80.”

Those who book early are more likely to use the hotel brand’s website rather than third-party sites that advertise package deals. “The majority of business we get is through the brand’s website. That’s where you’ll find the lowest price,” Budd says.

While business travel is down, Budd relates that Comfort Suites should benefit from the sports and leisure markets the region offers. “This summer, there’ll be weddings, amateur sports, and visitors who flock back to the area for events,” he says.

Business travel has suffered regionally as a result of the weak oil and gas market and a weak steel industry, Budd notes, but he sees these as temporary setbacks to a long-term presence that shows promise in this part of Liberty Township. “We didn’t build this for the short-term,” he declares.

Games in sports such as hockey, youth wrestling, baseball, and softball tournaments, as well as dance competitions, drive business to TMI Hospitality’s hotels in the Mahoning Valley, says Dave Mangus, area director of operations. Today, these travelers are looking for the standard amenities that include strong WiFi signals to support video streaming.

The majority of travelers are also booking reservations online. “Our highest booking volumes come from our brand websites,” he says, “but websites such as Travelocity are becoming widely used.”

More than 148 million Americans – or 57% of all travel reservations – book their hotels online every year, according to StatisticBrain.com. About 65% of same-day reservations are made through a smartphone.

It’s also clear that the majority of travelers – 65.4% – prefer to book through a brand website rather than a third-party operation, data show. About 19.5% of travelers make their reservations through merchant websites such as Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz. Another 11.3% book through what are called opaque websites, that is, sites where customers can choose a fare or rate without knowing the supplier until after the purchase, such as Priceline.

Still, bookings throughout the Mahoning Valley are fewer than four or five years ago, reports Dan Seitz, general manager of the Hampton Inn & Suites in Canfield. “Corporate travel is soft,” he says. “The need for rooms isn’t as high as it was two years ago.”

It’s a trend that Seitz doesn’t see improving in the near term because the oil and gas business has all but vacated the Mahoning Valley and manufacturing levels are off from previous years.

Often, guests have already used the internet to scope out where they’re going to stay before they reach town, Seitz adds. “Most of our guests come from a four-state area – Michigan, New York, West Virginia and Indiana,” he says. “We also get some European travelers coming to this area.”

A growing number of customers are not only booking their rooms online, but they’re also using the hotel brand’s website to check in, Seitz says. “Hilton drives a lot of bookings through their own website, and there’s a lot of e-check-ins occurring.”

Despite the ease of booking rooms, the real draw to a hotel is the quality of the service it renders, Seitz says. “It’s the interaction you have with your guests. They’re on the road four and five days a week and they’re looking for a home away from home.”

Who books rooms and how they are booked also depends on where the hotel is located, says Janet Perry, director of operations at Meander Hospitality Group. The hotel group owns and operates Hampton Inn & Suites just off the Interstate 80 interchange at state Route 46 in Austintown, and is building a Home 2 Suites by Hilton, an 87-room extended stay hotel on Interstate Boulevard near the Hampton Inn.

“Youngstown has always been a great pass-through market,” Perry says. “There’s still a lot of business in the area and it’s a central place between Cleveland and Pittsburgh to meet and gather.”

Perry reports an increase in bookings through third-party merchant websites, although Hilton is running an aggressive marketing campaign to direct potential guests to the brand website in order to boost online reservations and save customers money in the long run. “The best is to always book direct,” she says.

The area’s penchant for athletic competitions, entertainment and regional events help bring in business from all over. In many cases, those booking a room for the night are passing down I-80 from either New York or Chicago, Perry adds.

Perry thinks the location is perfect for an extended-stay hotel with the Home 2 Suites development, expected to open in November. “It gives guests more amenities and more comforts of home,” she says. Last year, the company opened its first extended-stay hotel in Canton near the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Canton is doing well,” Perry observes. “So far, the Hampton Inn in Youngstown is up from last year and we’re heading into our busy season. We’re looking forward to 2016.”

Pictured: The Best Western Meander Inn is one of the hotels on Interstate Drive in Austintown, just off Interstate 80.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.