The RNC has a winner: Tampa Bay's hotel industry

The tropical storm. The overwhelming security. The lost buses. The disgruntled business owners. The low TV ratings. And all those strip club jokes.

Whatever the complaints about last month's Republican National Convention, one undisputed winner has emerged: Tampa Bay's hotel industry.

While everyone was talking about the storm track, an empty chair and the annointing of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as the GOP's standard-bearers, the bay area's hoteliers cleaned up.

During the week of the RNC, the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area saw the biggest performance boost among the top 25 hotel markets in the country — and that's with Tropical Storm Isaac forcing organizers to cancel the convention's first day.

"We are now a legitimate first-tier convention city," said Kelly Miller, president of Tampa Bay and Company, the agency that promotes Hillsborough County tourism.

The Tampa Bay area hosted more than 50,000 guests for the RNC and saw a 73 percent occupancy rating — a jump of 48 percent compared to the same week last year, according to Smith Travel Research Inc.

"Those are huge, huge numbers," said D.T. Minich, the executive director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the tourism agency for Pinellas County.

But the metric that matters most in the hotel industry is called RevPAR: revenue per available room.

"In general the goal of the hotelier is to maximize RevPAR," said Smith Travel Research senior director Chad Church. "That RevPar is the number hoteliers look at to see how they performed."

In the same week back in 2011, local hotels made $40.85 per room. But during the convention, Tampa Bay's revenue per room was $125.23 — a staggering 207 percent leap.

"That 200 percent growth," Church said. "That's just off the charts."

Tampa Bay shined in another metric: ADR, or average daily rate, the average amount hotels charged guests for a room each night they stayed for the RNC. It was up 107 percent compared to 2011. Last year, the average room rate was $82.65, but during the convention it jumped to $171.14.

Church said that the "higher the rate, the more profit for hotels" — and that doesn't include the extra that hoteliers made from feeding and entertaining those guests, or catering all those RNC parties.

Smith Travel Research's data was reported directly to the firm from 75 percent of the bay area's major hotel and motel chains, franchises and other "branded" properties, Church said. The research firm compared the same week before Labor Day 2011 (Aug. 28-Sept. 3) to the week of the RNC (Aug. 26-Sept. 1.) The convention was held Aug. 27-30, though the first day was lost to Isaac.

"Those numbers, I believe, are especially important," Miller said, "because they hit in a month, a week, where we're typically slow as a tourist destination."

But there's more at stake than just one good week for local hotels: A positive showing by Tampa Bay during the RNC could strengthen the area's convention business, which took a hit during the country's economic downturn. Bad weather and heavy security shouldn't hurt the bay area, either, Church said.

"The people who plan conventions and meetings for a living understand that's part of the political event," the analyst said. "I don't think they'll hold it against the market."

Charlotte's hotels enjoyed a similar boost from hosting the Democratic National Convention Sept. 4-6. Charlotte area hotels also led the nation's top markets the week it hosted the DNC. Charlotte's convention saw a 74 percent occupancy rating, an increase of 37 percent from 2011.

But Charlotte clearly bested Tampa Bay in room metrics. Charlotte's average daily rate was up 143 percent, as guests paid $193.62 per night during the DNC. But Charlotte's revenue per available room was even better: $142.51, a massive increase of 234 percent.

Church, though, could not declare one area the hotel convention champion over the other. That's because Tampa Bay has a bigger market: 44,245 rooms compared to Charlotte's 32,237 rooms.

Consider this: Tampa Bay sold 227,703 hotel room nights during RNC week. But during the DNC, Charlotte sold 166,055 room nights. The bay area won on volume, selling 37 percent more.

"The Tampa Bay market has more rooms, but the Charlotte market charged more," Church said. "In reality, to have over 200 percent (revenue per available room) for both cities is incredible."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404.

The RNC has a winner: Tampa Bay's hotel industry 09/12/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 13, 2012 2:15am]

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