November 13, 2012

Portland's room boom cracks door to overload

Maine hotels are enjoying record sales, but is it enough to support 780 new units?

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Portland tourism

Can the Portland tourism market support the new hotel rooms coming into the market?

Yes

No

View Results

click image to enlarge

A Commercial Street parking lot at J.B. Brown & Sons is the proposed site of a 131-room Courtyard by Marriott that's expected to open sometime in 2014.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Traffic volume through the York Toll Plaza rose 1.3 percent from May through July, compared with the same period a year ago, Colgan said.

By contrast, airline passenger traffic into Portland dipped 1.9 percent to 1.67 million passengers last year, according to statistics from the Portland International Jetport.

A look at lodging statistics shows that the numbers of visitors who spent a night in Maine are on a slight rise.

In 2011, Maine saw nearly 38 million total visitors, including more than 20.4 million day visitors and more than 17.8 million overnight travelers, according to a study prepared for the Maine Office of Tourism. The number of overnight visitors rose 2.2 percent from the prior year, while the number of day-trippers rose 3 percent.

Whether that slight gain in overnight travelers will actually support the number of new hotel rooms in Portland is still not known, some argue. Currently there are roughly 2,200 hotel rooms in Portland and 3,500 rooms in the Greater Portland area, according to the innkeepers association.

The weekend occupancy rates got a boost from the temporary closure and revamping of the Eastland Park Hotel. Eastland is undergoing a makeover and will reopen as the Westin Portland Harbor Hotel in 2014.

Other projects near the Portland waterfront include a 131-room Courtyard by Marriott at the corner of Commercial and Maple streets, as well as a 123-room hotel on Fore Street and a 110-room boutique hotel on Congress Street in the former Portland Press Herald building. The $105 million mixed-use development site at Thompson's Point also includes plans for a 125-room hotel.

Those projects come on top of two hotels that opened in the last three years -- the 179-room Residence Inn by Marriott and 122-room Hampton Inn.

Hotel operators have mixed views about the need for so many new properties.

Some argue that the 100 percent weekend occupancy levels and the $300 per room charges seen this past summer and fall mean the area needs more rooms, while others suggest that the tourist season is too seasonal to support more year-round hotels.

"I've spoken to pleasure travelers and business travelers who have noted that it's (no more) expensive to stay in Boston and other big cities ... Over time, that could make Portland become a less attractive option," said Vincent Veroneau, chief executive of J.B. Brown & Sons, located behind the Courtyard by Marriott site on Commercial Street that's aiming to open in 2014.

There are things hotel operators could do in the off-season to attract business, such as heavy discounting. While the average daily rate of a Portland hotel is about $135.88 in August, it's $81.15 in January, according to STR.

The arrival of new properties could be a novelty to attract tourists for a few years, but over the long run there could be an oversaturation of the year-round market. The city needs to get more creative with year-round festivals, concerts and plays to draw people to stay in town, Dugal said.

"There's no question that the new properties will raise the profile of the city. If there's excess inventory, some will have to discount to get business," Dugal said.

"Fall has been very strong. Baby boomers are going to continue to push September and October to be better and better. With July and August, we have four really good months.

"The question is -- what happens about the other eight months? City hotels don't shut down. They're not seasonal."

Veroneau said he thinks Portland will continue to be a strong tourist destination.

"Our market research shows that the city can support more properties. Our summers are stronger. Our shoulder seasons are broader than they used to be. The downtown hotels will weather the winter," Veroneau said.

"There are travelers who want a downtown experience, not a suburban experience, so there's demand for city hotels." 

Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@mainetoday.com

 

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Today's poll: Portland tourism

Can the Portland tourism market support the new hotel rooms coming into the market?

Yes

No

View Results