News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Tom Stieghorst, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Feb. 13, 2004 - For South Florida hotels it rarely gets better than this weekend.
Starting tonight, many of the 850 hotels in Broward and Palm Beach counties will be in sold-out status, at least until Sunday.
The mid-February trifecta of the President's Day holiday, Valentine's Day and the Miami International Boat Show fills thousands of rooms annually in Broward and Palm Beach counties with out of town visitors.
Throw in cold weather up north and a weak dollar and many hotels are dusting off the 'No Vacancy' sign.
"We've been sold out this weekend for weeks," said Laurie Goldbold, front desk manager at the 27-room Crane's Beach House in Delray Beach, where a night's stay runs from $170 to $425 this time of year.
Nationally, a strengthening economy and less wariness about air travel have helped hotels recover from several poor years. South Florida suffered less than other areas, but is still benefiting from this year's more confident environment.
"I think people are settling down," said Andy Mitchell, director/owner of the 100-room Ireland's Inn, in Fort Lauderdale.
February is perennially the toughest month of the year to book a room in South Florida. Occupancy last year was 82.3 in Broward and 81.7 percent in Palm Beach counties for that month, about 15 percentage points above the annual average.
Hotels also get their best rates in February. The average daily rate was $116 in Broward and $176 in Palm Beach last February, a 30 to 40 percent premium over the rest of the year.
Many hotel operators would like to start raising rates to fund improvements they have deferred during the past few years. But most say they are cautious about appearing opportunistic, especially with repeat guests.
"Our rates are a little better than last year," said Mitchell, of Ireland's Inn, which advertised rates of $95 to $289 in the most recent Vacation Planner distributed by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitor's Bureau.
Nicki Grossman, president of the bureau, said that based on a recent search by the bureau to find rooms for some VIPs, rates are higher than last year, and availability this weekend is almost nil.
Grossman said that cold weather up north has played its usual roll in driving vacation business from Northeast states.
To underscore the weather contrast, the bureau this year spent $59,000 to create a "Beach Mobile," a glass enclosure on the back of a flatbed truck that was decorated with sand, beach chairs, a lifeguard stand and mannequins.
A panel on the truck bears the words "Make it a Reality" and lists the bureau Web site "www.sunny.org." The truck has been in New York for a month and will move to Boston next week.
While some hotels enjoy the prime of the season, they worry that larger trends are working against them. At the 26-unit Rainbow on the Ocean in Pompano Beach, February is pretty well booked the whole month and January occupancy was around 80 percent, said co-owner Jim Martin.
But smaller hotels like his are suffering, he said, from cautious consumer spending and competition from condos and cruise ships.
Gross revenue last year was $355,000 compared to $425,000 for the first nine months of 2001, Martin said.
"You can't really raise rates," he said. "We've maintained our same prices for a couple of years now." Rates range from $116 to $245 a night through April.
But at least for this weekend, hotels are in the pink. Even lodgings miles from the beach are reporting good sales.
The Wyndham Bonaventure Resort & Spa in Weston will be sold out tonight and Saturday with very limited availability Sunday and Monday, said Mustafa Abbas, revenue manager at the 500-room property Abbas said he wasn't yet sure if February would come in ahead of last year, but said January appeared to be pretty similar to last year.
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(c) 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.