Hotels pick up steam, as marketing, demand kick in

Rhode Island’s average hotel occupancy rate for May increased 4.7 percent over last May, exceeding the 3.6 percent rate for New England, and tourism experts say new and trusted marketing strategies, and pent-up demand are the reason.
The yearning to bust out of the trappings of a long winter may have been the biggest single factor buoying state numbers culled from the Smith Travel Research report for May, according to Evan Smith, Discover Newport president and CEO.
“[At] weekly staff meetings, everybody talks about feedback from an ad, what’s trending, [but] that was the one that was jumping out week after week: It wasn’t about any specific promotion or any specific thing,” Smith said.
At the Ocean House in Westerly, occupancy increased 12.3 percent to 62.1 percent this past May from 55.3 percent last May, said Daniel A. Hostettler, president and managing director of Ocean House Management LLC. Bookings for corporate groups and last-minute bookings within 30 days of May accounted for the increase, he said – likely spurred by the pent-up demand others are citing.
Mark Brodeur, director of tourism for the R.I. Commerce Corporation, noted that integrated marketing strategies across regions, ad placement in travel magazines and articles in prominent news publications have helped push hotel occupancy increases of 2 percent or more in past years, even during the recession, and seem to be working even better lately.
May’s increase, while below the national average of 4.9 percent, was a healthy kickoff to the tourist season, which stretches through October, Brodeur said.
Between January and May, Rhode Island hosted 28 writers from organizations ranging from the USA Today to Yankee Magazine, with about eight here in May. The tourism division arranges these visits, coordinating with the tourism councils in the state, which cost up to $5,000 in staff time to set up, while meals and rooms are compensated for by the hotels or venues, Brodeur said.
Warwick, home of T.F. Green Airport, saw a 6.9 percent occupancy increase for its 16 hotels, from 69.4 percent in May 2013 to 74.3 percent this past May. A new 15-second television ad that aired in Massachusetts and Connecticut and was cross promoted with a Facebook contest made a noticeable impact, said Karen Jedson, the city’s director of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Development. The contest promotion on Facebook had 17,564 shares, with 12,969 people opting in for more information about Warwick; 1,088 “likes” on the city’s Facebook page and 453 tweets, Jedson said.
“What we’re trying to do is offer up Warwick as an alternate place to stay for families who might not be able to secure a room in South County, Providence or Newport but still want to see our state,” she said
In Providence, a May graduation for the Rhode Island School of Design usually held in June and three conventions contributed to a boost in occupancy, said Martha Sheridan, president and CEO of the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau. Hotel occupancy increased 3.5 percent in Providence this past May compared with last May, rising to 75.7 percent from 73.1 percent, she said.
The cheerleading event, Jam Fest U.S. Final; the Acoustical Society of America meeting and a convention for IBC Life Sciences all increased hotel stays in what is already a normally busy month in Providence, Sheridan said.
Discover Newport has invested tens of thousands of dollars “so we can show people unique and authentic experiences,” he said.
At the Hyatt Regency Newport, one effective new strategy is providing vouchers for breakfast in certain vacation packages, particularly for families and the leisure traveler, said Keith Chouinard, director of sales and marketing.
While the hotel doesn’t disclose occupancy rates for competitive reasons, Chouinard said the hotel is “doing well” and packaging hotel rooms more and more with partners and activities in the region.
In South County, the leisure traveler is the primary target of integrated marketing approaches, which are done cooperatively with other regions, said Myrna George, president and CEO of the South County Tourism Council, which covers 11 towns from Coventry to Westerly.
She said she did not yet have Smith Travel Research rates specific to seven hotels in South County for May, but beautiful weather combined with a year-round marketing campaign and a New York Times article on May 11 entitled, “South County, Rhode Island: the Endless Beach Party,” is leading her to expect a “bump up” for May, she said.
“Our job as a destination marketing organization is to make sure we’re not only buying media but getting editorial coverage as well,” she said. •

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