Hotel owner: Grand Strand lodging report too bright

Myrtle Beach, SC - By Brandon Herring - bio | email

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Myrtle Beach hotel owner Bhavin Patel says he spends too much time these days crunching numbers and not enough time taking reservations at his Super 8 Motel on South Ocean Boulevard.

That's why he couldn't believe the latest lodging report from Coastal Carolina University's Brittain Center for Resort Tourism, showing hotel occupancy in the first week of May has risen an average of 7.6 percent compared to the same week in 2009.

Patel says his experience has been quite different.

"I'm doing everything I can to save a buck here or there, and I'm still having a hard time," Patel said. "I just don't see how that can be, how those numbers can be right.'

Patel says he knows several other people in the hotel business who are experiencing similar troubles filling their rooms, so he feels the report is sending a misleading message to the public.

"They are thinking, 'Hey look. The hotels are doing pretty good,'" Patel said. "No. I'm here to tell you we are not doing well at all. I'm literally inches away from packing it all in."

Dr. Taylor Damonte, who leads the research for the report, admits it is based on an average, and some places will not be doing as well as others. For example, he says hotels, condo-hotels and campgrounds are grouped together, and it is normal for hotels to have more challenges staying in the black.

"There is quite a bit of variance from property to property in performance," Damonte explained.

Although the report for hotels, condo-hotels and campgrounds is based on voluntary reporting from 30 to 45 businesses, Damonte says there is enough range in that sample to be reliable.

"We believe it is about 10 percent of the marketplace, but the critical thing is that it is representative. We believe based on the proportions of each of the different types of businesses in the sample that it is."

Damonte also points out there is a second part of the report that includes a scientific look at rental properties. It also shows the improvements in occupancy compared to last year, Damonte said.

Damonte also believes instead of comparing 2010 to 2009 as the study does, some hotel owners may be looking back a few more years, to a time when there was less competition. That may be skewing their perspective, he said.

"We have a lot more properties in the market place right now than we did in 2006 and 2007," Damonte explained. "We probably have 15 to 20 percent more properties than we had."

Damonte says for hotel owners like Patel, that means potential customers may simply be choosing to stay elsewhere in the Grand Strand.

While the overall picture may be improving according to the study results, Patel says it is important to know the lodging report does not represent everyone.

"It's a shame because it took me 10 years to get to where I am, and everything is just gone now, and I don't want to take a gamble on next year," Patel said.

Despite the differing views on occupancy rates, both Patel and Damonte say rates for lodging are lower in 2010 than they were in 2009. Patel says he has to keep rates down to attract any business at all.

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