20101229-ABIZSpringhill-0101Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hotel-motel tax receipts lagged in the first half of 2010, but August kicked off a robust rebound. By Erin Z. Bass

Responsible for bringing tourists to Lafayette, the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission has been weathering the downturn in the economy by promoting the Hub City to potential “drive” visitors in the five-state area and focusing on what we do best — food, music and culture. One way LCVC tracks this travel activity is by looking at hotel/motel tax receipts, and most recent numbers show its efforts paying off.

At the beginning of the year, receipts were lagging significantly behind 2009 numbers (they were down 28 percent in January and stayed down year-to-date by about 21 percent in both February and March), which LCVC Executive Director Gerald Breaux calls a “sign of the times.” But in August, the trend quickly reversed itself, showing a revenue increase of $23,686 for the month. Net revenue numbers have continued to rise, and November reveals an even bigger increase, $26,848.

It’s a positive sign of what the future might hold; the overall 2010 figure, January-November, is $2.23 million, versus the year-end figure for 2009, which came in at $2.5 million. Breaux says 2008 was the best year on the books because of hurricane traffic and the fact that the oil industry was going strong; that year ended at $3.1 million, with $2.9 million collected in the first 11 months.

“The trend has changed somewhat,” says Breaux. “The moratorium has been lifted, which is a positive thing, and the oil industry has some semblance of rebounding. We’ve also seen an uptick in tour buses coming back to Acadiana, another positive sign of how the national economy is doing.”

While Lafayette’s hotel construction did slow down in 2010, the city currently has several new hotels coming online in the next few months, and Breaux says there are rumors of more beds to come in 2011.

Lafayette Consolidated Government Permit Supervisor John Broyles notes three hotels under construction in the city. Homewood Suites at 201 Kaliste Saloom Road near Chris’ Poboys will be Lafayette’s first location of Hilton’s upscale, all-suites brand of hotel. SpringHill Suites by Marriott at 321 Settlers Trace Blvd. in River Ranch is also a first location of the modern all-suites hotel product. And Best Western, building at 114 Rue Fernand, will once again have a presence in the Oil Center area, after Hotel Acadiana on Pinhook became Crowne Plaza in 2009. (Breaux adds that a Best Western is also under construction in Scott.)

With an average of 100 rooms each, Homewood, Springhill and Best Western will bring the city’s total number of rooms to more than 6,700. LaQuinta Inn & Suites off Highway 90 in Broussard near the Celebrity Theater also contributes to that number, having opened at the beginning of 2010.

Breaux expects Lafayette’s hotel/motel tax receipts to continue their upward trend in 2011 due to some major tours and meetings on the books. Tour company TAUK, the world’s leading escorted travel operator, has 29 departures to Louisiana planned for next year with overnight stays in New Orleans and Lafayette.

“They are coming this weekend for a final site inspection,” says Breaux. “This is one of the most positive things because every tour bus operator in North America usually copies something they do.”

Lafayette will also host the annual convention of the Louisiana Society of Association Executives at the Hilton January 19-21. Made up of CEOs and top staff of different types of associations across the state, LSAE spending three days in the Hub City is another positive for Lafayette, says Breaux.

With a new lieutenant governor in office, the future of tourism for the state of Louisiana and exactly how Lafayette fits into the mix is a work in progress, but Melody Alijani, director of research and development for Louisiana’s Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism, has good news to report. “The period of the ‘staycation’ seems to be coming to an end,” she says, “but travelers are looking for value and quality and their expectations are high. Lafayette is unique in that they felt an impact after the oil spill, but it’s slowly and surely rebounding.”

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