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Holiday Inn Express to open 133 new doors in county

Hurricane-watchers take heed. Finding a room in Hernando County will soon get a little easier, since two new hotels are slotted to go up in Spring Hill in the next two years.

Holiday Inn Express plans to take a major step into the county, with one hotel at Cortez Boulevard, near Barclay Avenue, and another at U.S. 19, near Sealawn Drive, across from the giant pink dinosaur.

Hernando County's hotel room availability would increase by 20 percent, compared to the 600 rooms now available at local hotels and bed and breakfasts countywide, according to the county tourism department.

Construction on a 60-room Holiday Inn Express on State Road 50 is scheduled for early 2005, with an opening in early 2006, said hotel spokeswoman Monica Smith. Construction on a 73-room hotel on U.S. 19 would begin between April and June next year with an opening between April and June 2006.

While the closest Holiday Inn Express is in New Port Richey, this will not be Holiday Inn's first foray into the county. In the past decade, two Holiday Inn hotels became Best Westerns. Holiday Inn Express is a different brand from Holiday Inn, although both are owned by InterContinental Hotels Group, based in the United Kingdom.

Holiday Inn Express hotels are smaller than Holiday Inns, with no restaurants or meeting rooms. Holiday Inn Express hotel rooms tend to be lower-priced, in the $60 to $90 range. They also offer free breakfast.

InterContinental Hotels Group owns, manages or franchises 173 hotels in Florida, Smith said.

The addition of the two new Holiday Inn Express hotels will raise the county's hotel count from seven to nine, which means the county's revenue from the bed tax will also soon be increasing.

The new hotels could bring about $50,000 more in annual tourism tax dollars, which funds the county's Tourism Development Department. The bed tax is a 3 percent fee charged on the price of a room. The bed tax is applied to all short-term overnight businesses, including landlords who rent out homes for less than six months at a time.

"We're going to work our best to keep them full," said county tourism director Sue Rupe.

Other area hotel managers knew about the plans for the Holiday Inn Express hotels, and they noted that the county's population growth continues to attract such new businesses.

"There's always room for more hotels, and competition is always good for existing hotels," said Scott Guthman, general manager of the Best Western at Weeki Wachee.

Jennifer Liberto can be reached at (352) 848-1434 or libertosptimes.com.

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