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Prospects for Tampa-area hotels strong, forecasters say

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Published:   |   Updated: July 24, 2014 at 05:32 PM

— Hotel occupancy in the Tampa metro region reached an all-time high over the first six months of 2014 and the outlook is expected to remain bright for the next couple of years, forecasters say.

The Bay-area room occupancy rate thus far in 2014 has been about 73.5 percent, said Vail Brown, vice president of Global Business Development and Marketing for Smith Travel Research. That includes Pinellas County. The occupancy rate in Hillsborough County was 71.4 percent in June and 72.3 percent in Pinellas.

Brown was one of several speakers addressing members of the Hillsborough County Hotel Motel Association during its annual trends and forecasting forum, held Thursday at the Tampa Airport Marriott.

“Month after month we continue to see record-breaking numbers in occupancy” nationwide, Brown said. Nationally, the room occupancy rate in June 2014 was 71.7 percent, she said. “Occupancy is back and it’s back strong.”

Smith Travel Research predicts that the local occupancy rate will drop a bit in 2015, but by less than 2 percent and will still be considered strong.

Average daily room rates are also up here by 6 percent to $113.57, according to the Smith report.

Lou Plasencia of the Plasencia Group, which manages investment portfolios and transactions for those in the hospitality industry, predicts there will be “at least four major transactions in the Tampa Bay area during the next 12 months.”

Occupancy rates should remain high until new hotel rooms come on line locally, he said, so now would be a good time to raise rates.

Among the projects Plasencia mentioned is a 400-room hotel complex in the Channel District across Old Water Street from the Tampa Marriott Waterside and across Morgan Street from the Forum, where the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team plays.

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has applied for a rezoning on the property, commonly known as the “West Lot.”

Vinik also has big plans for the Channelside Bay Plaza and the surrounding area.

Following a multi-year legal fight over Channelside Bay Plaza, Vinik prevailed with a bid of $7.1 million for the lease on Channelside just this week. Companies under his control likely will close on the deal soon, and Vinik’s representatives say they look forward to talking with Port Tampa Bay officials on how to renovate the site. The port owns the property on which the retail center sits.

Beyond the shopping complex, Vinik hopes to renovate much of the overall neighborhood to make it a walking entertainment district stretching from Florida Avenue where the hotel would be located, to the Florida Aquarium and through the parking lots north of the Forum.

“The transformation of (downtown)Tampa that you are about to see — much of it driven by Vinik — will be the most significant since 1884,” when Henry Plant brought his railroad to Tampa, Plasencia said.

“Tampa is starting to reach its full potential,” said Santiago Corrada, president and chief executive officer of Visit Tampa Bay. And tourism here is very strong.

What will make it even stronger is the growth of international tourists, said Paul Phipps, chief marketing officer for Visit Florida. Domestic travel growth is slowing down, he said. “We need to build internationally. That is the key to where we need to get.”

Local tourism officials are coordinating with Tampa International Airport as it works to draw more international flights to Hillsborough County. Hoteliers can do their part, Phipps said, by studying culture and cuisine, even offering employees that speak various languages. Visit Florida, he said, can help them to accomplish that.

Reporter Rich Mullins contributed to this report.

yhammett@tampatrib.com

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