Empty rooms spell trouble for Huntsville hotel industry - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Empty rooms spell trouble for Huntsville hotel industry

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Fewer guests means less money to go around. Fewer guests means less money to go around.

Hotel managers say that trouble is looming for the Huntsville lodging industry.

The problem they've been having all year is they can't fill their rooms. They say sequestration is to blame.

This is supposed to be the busy season for hotels in Huntsville, but at the Holiday Inn -Research Park, you wouldn't know it by the looks of things.

"Our occupancy has been down greatly compared to previous years because of a loss of conventions, government travels, and corporate travelers coming in to do business with the government," said general manager Pete Doyle.

The proof is in the pudding. When we asked the general manager to see a room, he said we could pretty much take our pick.

On an average Thursday night in the past, at least 140 rooms in his 200 room hotel would be full. Tonight, only 89 rooms are occupied.

"I've never seen anything like this, even with the ebbs and flows of our business, I have never seen a drop like this, ever," said Doyle, who has been in the business for 22 years.

It seems to be happening to hotels all over Huntsville.

In fact, the city's latest lodging tax report shows 7,744 less rooms were sold this April compared to last April.

"We are on the verge, if not already in a major recession in hotel occupancy," said general manager Jim Larkin.

At Larkin's Holiday Inn downtown, reports show him outperforming his competitors, but with an 18 percent decline in business.

"Being the last man to drown on a sinking boat is not very comforting," joked Larkin.

For both hotels, less guests means less money to go around.

"We don't have as many people working in the restaurant or at the bar, in housekeeping, or at the front desk. Everything has to be cut back. We have had to cut back significantly in our staff," explained Doyle.  

Now the fight to survive is kicking in among hotels across the city.

"It is kind of like when gas stations start having price wars, we are now having price wars," said Doyle.

The question is how long can this go on before the damage becomes permanent? Right now, no one knows that answer.

Many hotel managers are remaining optimistic. They believe Huntsville will bounce back from this slump, but they are counting on the one percent lodging tax increase that goes into effect next month, to draw business to the area.

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