News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Mark Shanahan, Portland Press Herald, Maine
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jul. 9--The developers of the Portland Harbor Hotel are betting on three factors for success: Location, location, location.
Brochures for the new hotel, which finally opens this week, are filled with references to the waterfront, the city's financial district and, of course, the cobblestone streets and galleries that characterize Portland's Old Port.
"We think being in the Old Port is a very strong attraction," said Heather Strauss, the general manager. "We're an upscale property for an upscale clientele."
The Portland Harbor Hotel is working hard to carve out a niche because it must. With the demand for more hotel rooms in Maine's largest city dubious at best, and the hospitality industry everywhere still struggling to recover from Sept. 11, it's imperative that the Portland Harbor Hotel offer something different.
Lodging industry observers say it's a challenging time to open a new hotel, especially in downtown Portland, where there already are three large hotels and a fourth on the horizon.
"Even before Sept. 11, demand wasn't growing at the same rate as supply," said Molly Uteg of Smith Travel Research, a firm that tracks and analyzes the hospitality industry. "But it looks like Portland's having a bit of a rebound."
There now are 3,100 hotel rooms in Portland and South Portland, and a year-round occupancy rate of slightly over 60 percent, which is about the national average.
Summer remains the peak season for the hospitality trade in Maine, and most Portland-area hotels are booked in July and August. While autumn has become an important part of the tourist season, late winter and early spring have not, and most Portland hotels still struggle when the weather's cold.
"I'd like to see us focus on the 'shoulder seasons,' " said Barbara Whitten, president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Portland. "The challenge here is to fill these rooms on a year-round basis."
To distinguish itself from the Holiday Inn By The Bay, the Portland Regency Hotel, the Eastland Park Hotel and the planned Hilton Garden Inn, the 100-room Portland Harbor Hotel is pitching itself as a "boutique property," an independent downtown hotel that's pricey but also offers more amenities.
The $14 million hotel is being developed by David Bateman and a group of investors that includes Chuck DeLauriers, David Shamoian, formerly of the Peabody Hotel Group, and Hart Hotels Inc., a New York-based entity that owns 10 hotels and manages a number of others.
Its target audience is not the conventioneer, but the tourist and business traveler.
"Ours is the corporate and leisure market," Strauss said. "If you rely on meetings, that doesn't work in the Old Port."
The hotel's most distinctive feature is an attractive courtyard that's concealed from passers-by on Fore and Union streets. The Garden, as it's called, has a vaguely European flavor, with a fountain, raised flower beds, and tables and chairs for dinner or drinks.
The interior of the hotel was designed by DiLeonardo International, whose portfolio includes more than 1,000 hotels, casinos and conference centers around the world.
The hotel's public spaces include a tastefully appointed restaurant with large windows onto the courtyard. The 87 guest rooms and 13 suites strive for Old World elegance -- all feature large, custom armoires and 250-thread linens, for example -- with decidedly modern amenities, including cordless, two-way speaker phones, wireless high-speed Internet access, and 110 free television channels.
Although the hotel's exterior has drawn some harsh criticism from local architects, who say its eclectic design is inauthentic and detracts from other buildings in the historic district, Strauss believes that any press is good press.
"It's only helped increase awareness of the hotel," she said. "People have been very supportive."
The rate for a room without a view of the courtyard is $229; it's $249 for a room with a view; and it's $329 for a suite with a jacuzzi.
Prices at the nearby Portland Regency Hotel are comparable during the summer, but much lower in the winter. By comparison, a standard room at the Eastland Park Hotel costs $119 during the summer, and a suite costs $189.
"The higher-end the product, the higher the rate you can get," said Strauss.
"We think our competition is the Harraseeket Inn, the Inn By The Sea, the Samoset, places like that.
"But we're downtown," she added.
To enhance its image, the Portland Harbor Hotel is seeking to become the city's only four-diamond hotel. Bestowed by AAA, the widely recognized rating reflects an "exceptional degree of hospitality, service and attention to detail, while offering upscale facilities and a variety of amenities."
David Siegel, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, said despite the 60 percent occupancy rate in Portland, there is reason to think that another hotel could do well.
He points out that in the wake of Sept. 11, many more people are traveling by car, which is good news for a place, like Portland, that's within six hours of New York City and just two hours from Boston.
"We're well positioned to capture folks who otherwise might have gone overseas or to California," said Siegel. "The segment of the market that's been hit most heavily has been the convention and meeting market, which we don't rely on as much in Maine."
The latest numbers from the Maine Office of Tourism suggest that the state may be benefiting from people's desire to stay closer to home. Lodging sales in April -- the latest month for which figures are available -- were up 4 percent over last year.
"I think we're poised for a pretty good season," Siegel said.
No one is hoping that's true more than the developers of the Portland Harbor Hotel.
-----To see more of the Portland Press Herald, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.portland.com
(c) 2002, Portland Press Herald, Maine. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. HLT, SXC,