‘Staycationers’ a boost for hotels

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO Hilton Garden Inn general manager Ed Carroll and front desk associate Julie Mundell greet guest Eileen Kilgallen of Kings Park Friday afternoon. Ms. Kilgallen was staying in Riverhead to attend a wedding on the North Fork.

The economy may not have recovered fully, but North Fork hotel operators reported a decent summer and most remain optimistic that their businesses will prosper in the year ahead.
The local experience corresponds with data recently released by the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association in Albany indicating that 71 percent of hotel owners reported the summer of 2010 was as good or better than the previous summer. Figures for hotel occupancy from January to the end of July were up statewide by 8.4 percent, according to Smith Travel, a nationally recognized source of historical hotel performance data.
What’s critical on Long Island, according to Cindy Morrison, director of sales at Riverhead’s Holiday Inn Express and Hotel Indigo East End, is that more activities and events have been scheduled to keep visitors coming in during the off season.
To expand off-season business, her managers are working with the Long Island Wine Council and other tourist groups to find new ways to encourage people to visit the East End, she said.
“It’s exciting to see the growth potential,” Ms. Morrison said.
The East End is easily accessible for visitors from New York City, New Jersey and New England, and it’s an ideal “staycation” venue for people whose pocketbooks don’t allow them to take more exotic vacations, she said.
“We are still in a recession,” but occupancy rates were good this summer, Ms. Morrison said. She couldn’t release any specific data that management considers proprietary, she said.
Ed Carroll, general manager of Riverhead’s Hilton Garden Inn, said occupancy was up more than 11 percent over the summer of 2009 and the average daily rate for rooms was about 15 percent higher, he said. Rates averaged $139 per night.
“People are starting to loosen up a little” with spending, he said.
Ellen Wiederlight at Greenport’s Soundview Inn, said her July and August bookings improved over last year, but visitors booked shorter stays. In past years, visitors often booked for a week or more. This summer, they were booking rooms for a few nights.
“I think people are still price resistant,” she said.
June was quirky for her. She had better June numbers in 2009 than she did this year even though June 2009 was marked by persistent rain.
“I’ve seen other down seasons,” Ms. Wiederlight said, noting that she’s been in the business for 40 years. “I’m neither optimistic nor pessimistic,” she said. “I’m just rolling with it.
Weddings and other group reservations helped to sustain business at the Soundview this summer, she said.
During the just-ended high summer season, visitors got hit with a higher Suffolk County hotel tax, which rose from .75 percent to 3 percent and brought overall taxes on a room to 11.62 percent, Ms. Wiederlight said. Although the county Legislature promised that the anticipated $5.1 million in revenues from that increase would be used to promote tourism, East End hotel operators weren’t optimistic they would see much of that money spent on promoting their businesses.
That concern was voiced this week by Deborah Rivera, who operates the Greenporter with her husband, Bill Pittorino. All the “I Love New York” commercials and advertisements focus on upstate locations, she complained, not eastern Long Island.
“There’s tons to offer here and we’ve just got to get the focus,” Ms. Rivera said.
She joined Ms. Morrison in seeing off-season activities as a way to keep tourists coming to the East End. It’s important to retain momentum throughout the harvest season, she said.
Numbers were definitely up at the Greenporter from last year, Ms. Rivera said.
“But that’s not saying a lot,” she added, referring to the difficult summer of 2009.
Ms. Rivera held steady on room pricing, saying there was no way her upscale hotel could or should try to compete with the low rates offered by some hotels and cruise lines. Her rates ranged from $169 a night for a superior queen room Sundays through Thursdays to $339 for a deluxe king room on weekends.
The advantage of an East End vacation is that visitors don’t have to spend hours getting to airports and have the convenience of being able to drive here, Ms. Rivera said.
[email protected]