Tri-City hotel occupancy rates are rising just as a number of new hotels plan to open near year's end.
Local hotel room bookings through the first half of the year were up 6 percent compared with the first six months of 2013, and hotel revenues increased 8.4 percent over the same time, according to the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau's draft 2015 Tourism Promotion Area marketing plan.
Occupancy rates in Benton County hotels and motels averaged 64.5 percent through July compared with 60.5 percent between January and July 2013, said visitor bureau President and CEO Kris Watkins.
Franklin County hotel occupancy rates were 63.3 percent through July, compared to 59.1 percent between January and July 2013.
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"It came in higher than I expected, which is really positive," Watkins said during a Tri-City Regional Hotel-Motel Commission meeting Thursday.
A number of hotels are expected to open by the end of this year, including The Homewood Suites along the Columbia River in Richland, the SpringHill Suites that should adjoin the Three Rivers Convention Center and My Place Hotel in Pasco.
Those three hotels should add 292 guestrooms to the Tri-Cities, bringing the total number of available guestrooms to 3,587 in Richland, Kennewick and Pasco.
Sporting event and convention visitors should help fill the new rooms, Watkins said. Last year 196 conventions, sporting events and group activities attracted 109,652 visitors who spent almost $35.7 million in the area, the visitor bureau reported. Those figures do not include leisure travelers, which are more difficult to track.
Kim Shugart, senior vice president of the visitors bureau, expects a similar number of conventions, meetings and sporting events to be held in the Tri-Cities this year, as well as an increase in the number of visitors.
"(The conventions) are getting larger instead of smaller," Shugart said.
The Tri-Cities hosted 128 conventions and sporting events between January and June that attracted 62,169 people and generated nearly $19 million in visitor spending. Another 79 conventions expected to generate $11.4 million in visitor spending are scheduled for the second half of the year. Forty-four conventions, gatherings and sporting events have been inked for 2015 and should generate $14.2 million in spending.
The visitor bureau also believes downtown Seattle's high hotel occupancy rate -- it's expected to crest at 80 percent this year -- should boost the Tri-Cities' visitor numbers.
"Room rates will remain higher than in Eastern Washington, which will encourage convention groups to meet outside the Puget Sound Region," the visitor bureau's marketing plan reads. "As Seattle gears up to compete on a national and international level for convention groups, statewide and regional conventions will be displaced, making the Tri-Cities more attractive."
-- Drew Foster: 509-582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org