New Economy Helps Fill Falls Hotels
Occupancy rates rose this summer on U.S. side
NIAGARA FALLS — An eight-story hotel undergoing a top-to-bottom renovation on the edge of the Niagara River couldn’t open fast enough for Faisal Merani.
“This summer we wished we had 150 more rooms to sell,” said Merani, who is overseeing the top-to-bottom renovation of the shuttered Inn on the River on Buffalo Avenue.
After a bruising summer tourist season in 2009, hotels in Niagara Falls — like those across the state—showed signs of a rebound this summer. Numbers used to measure the health of the industry saw an uptick in July and August compared to what many hoteliers described as a dismal summer last year.
That leaves hotel owners cautiously optimistic about the future, but still wary about year-end numbers that have remained below state and national averages for years.
“Everything fell in place this year,” said Galeb Rizek, co-owner of the Econo Lodge at the Falls North on Niagara Falls Boulevard. “Last year, not only the economy, but the weather was awful.”
In an industry that can hinge on rain or the national mood, local hoteliers such as Rizek and Merani see progress in the slowly increasing occupancy rates and room rates that hotels in the city have seen in recent years. Occupancy, room rates and revenue- per-available room have increased in all but one of the last seven years in Niagara Falls, with all three hotel indicators dropping in 2009.
This year, occupancy rates through the end of August in the city were up 6.5 percent compared to the same time last year, according to Smith Travel Research reports provided by the New York State Hospitality&Tourism Association. Hotels across the state have seen similar increases so far this year.
“We’ve had a very positive summer compared to last year,” said Geoffrey Reeds, director of marketing at the 391-room Crowne Plaza Hotel on Third Street. “Occupancy has been up slightly. We’ve had a very good convention summer, so we feel positive about the summer as a whole.”
Several hotel owners said they’ve seen a boost this year from American travelers who are choosing Niagara Falls as a cheaper vacation option.
“People that were going to Orlando on a four-day, five-day trip that would cost them a couple thousand have cut back,” Rizek said. Those same travelers, Rizek said, might instead spend $600 on a two-day trip to Niagara Falls.
New rules that went into effect last year requiring travelers entering the United States to have passports also have helped hotels as American travelers stay on the U. S. side of the falls.
“People are not wanting to spend the dollars to get the whole family into passports and so they’re making the decision to stay on the U. S. side,” Reeds said.
Long-time hotel owners have seen the hot-and-cold nature of the industry in Niagara Falls for years.
Merani, whose father, Ashak, first bought into the hotel business in 1971 in Niagara Falls, Ont., has seen growth each year since his family bought another hotel on Buffalo Avenue in 2005. That hotel, recently renovated, is now a Holiday Inn.
Had he been able to open the former Inn on the River before this summer tourist season, he said, he would have seen strong demand for the 142 rooms.
The building, now under a more than $7 million renovation, is slated to open as a Four Points by Sheraton early next year.
“Next summer,” Faisal said of the extra rooms, “we’re going to have them.”
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