Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Local motel stays below state average

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 11/22/2013

The Franklin County Convention and Visitors Bureau needs to tighten its belt, Kristi Lee said.

With the state hotel/motel occupancy average at 57 percent, the average for Franklin County is only 40 percent, Lee, director of the visitors bureau, said.

“The national average is about 64 percent,” she said. “The average was lower last year at 38.5 percent, so we’re better than last year.”

When hotel occupancy is down, it directly affects how much money the visitors bureau can spend on marketing materials, she said.

“Currently, I receive the transient guest tax funding from guests staying in the hotels,” she said. “We run off that funding. So when it gets lower, it gives us less money to promote the community to the outside world. We have to tighten our belts and cut back on programs we wouldn’t otherwise want to do.”

The visitors bureau, which is housed at the Franklin County Visitor Information Center, 2011 E. Logan St., Ottawa, is working to figure out exactly what is keeping people from coming through and staying in Franklin County, Lee said.

“The economy is of course still a factor in that overall,” she said. “And the transparency anymore of online reviews is having somewhat of an effect on bookings.”

Many people are turning to online hotel review sites like TripAdvisor before booking hotel stays, Lee said, and those are likely playing a part in the county’s hotel occupancy.

“It’s an issue here and I’ve tried to address it with [hotel managers or owners] and will continue doing that,” she said. “We’re working on it. I attended another webinar online that shows some ways that we can work with our hotels and trying to market themselves, and that it’s probably more than what we’re doing.”

Not everyone relies on online reviews, Lee said, and some travelers passing through might not be getting information about the available hotels in town.

“When KDOT [Kansas Department of Transportation] built the new U.S. 59, it took down our exit sign for the travel information center,” she said. “We’ve written [KDOT] letters trying to get our sign put back up. Our walk-in traffic has decreased since we lost our sign — a lot of the people, as far as the people looking for information. It’s been significant because we get a lot of requests for [travel information].”

The report for hotel occupancy comes out yearly from Smith Travel Research, Lee said, and good news is being predicted for next year’s average.

“[Hotel occupancy] goes up and down throughout the year, and we are currently on somewhat of an upswing, so hopefully it will be rebounding,” she said. “Smith Travel Research is predicting a 1.8-percent increase in occupancy stay for next year.”

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