For the past few months I have included in this column the Smith Travel Research Hotel/Motel Statistics. The monthly information alone does not provide much in the way of what is happening, but if one goes back for three or four months and looks at the trend, you can find some indications that folks are beginning to spend more nights in the hotels and motels in our state.
This data, of course, includes both business and leisure "nights out," and it does show that the decline in the hotel/motel business may have "bottomed out" and that our economy is beginning to recover, albeit very slowly, from the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Others are not so optimistic. They contend that the increases are only temporary and that we will see another decline before the economy truly enters a sustained recovery. Only time will tell.
The data for March indicate that the occupancy rate was up 6.1 percent over February; the average daily rate was $74.41, up 0.7 percent; revenue per available room was $43.20, up 6.8 percent over February and the number of rooms sold in March was 480,255, up 8.6 percent from February's numbers.
To find out what is happening locally, I visited with some of our hotel/motel owners/operators to see how they are doing.
Barb Storey, manager of Super 8, said, "We are starting to see a slight increase in our occupancy rate but it's still 2 or 3 percentage points below where we were this time last year. We usually see our biggest increase when the construction season begins and that hasn't started yet this year. In addition to the seasonal increase, I believe that we will see some increase as a result of an improving economy even if it isn't what we'd like it to be."
Jeff Loudin, manager of The Hampton Inn, said, "We are definitely experiencing an increase in our occupancy rate. We always experience an increase in room sales this time of year because of tourism but I believe part of the increase we're seeing now is contributable to an improving economy."
Loudin, like all the others I talked to, said that the winter was extremely slow not only because of our sagging economy but because of the unusually severe weather.
A spokesperson at the Elkins Motor Lodge said they too are seeing an increase in their room sales. The individual said that improving weather, along with an improving economy, is causing people to start traveling more.
Holiday Inn Express manager Craig Fortney said that his motel is seeing significant increases in room rental.
"Last week we were up 26 percent over this time last year," he said. "The week before that we were up 15 percent and three weeks ago we had an increase of 19 percent over last year. Contrasting that with the 2 percent increase we saw for the month of February over the same month last year, I believe some of the increases are a result of an improving economy in addition to the usual seasonal increase in room rentals."
I stopped by the Elkins Depot Welcome Center last Monday and from the numbers given to me for the month of May, it looks like it is on the way to setting another record for the number of people requesting travel brochures and information of all kinds.
Although it is a bit early in the season, the numbers for May 1 were impressive indeed - 160 people stopped by that day. I asked whether that number included any of those who participated in the Alzheimer's walk and the lady on duty said, "definitely not. We were very careful not to include any of them in that number." The next day, Sunday, saw 30 visitors and by noon on Monday, 44 folks had already been there seeking information of one sort or another.
Ed Griesel, president of the Welcome Center, told me at Tuesday's Downtown Merchants Meeting that 31,500 guests passed through the center's doors in 2009. That was, according to Griesel, a 15 percent increase over 2008.
Griesel also noted that the Welcome Center's 2009 contributions combined with Community Participation grants are providing funding for the construction of an information kiosk that will be placed on the north side of the depot this spring. These funds will also help pay for a public announcement system for use during events at the town square and for announcing the arrival and departure of the excursion trains. It will also be installed this spring.
The Welcome Center's Web site is now in operation although it is still under construction. Not only is it informational but it is attractive as well. Some of the information available on it includes area attractions, around town, events, history and information for newcomers to the area. There are also numerous links including one to the city of Elkins, the Randolph County Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Inter-Mountain, the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce, the Randolph County Development Authority and others. The address is www.elkinsdepot.com.