Thursday, 25 April 2013 12:50

Saratoga Booked

By Patricia Older | News

Hotel Owners Report Fast Start to the Season

SARATOGA SPRINGS — While a study of hotel rooms in Saratoga County shows a drop in occupancy from the first quarter of 2012 compared to the first quarter in 2013, local hotel and bed and breakfast owners say this year is turning out to be the best one in recent memory.

“Business has been very, very good here at the Downtowner,” said owner Mary Kay Asay of the 42-room hotel located in the center of the Spa City. “We are fully booked.” 

There are three more hotels proposed for Saratoga, including 159 rooms behind the Rip Van Dam, 145 for Congress Plaza; and 109 rooms where the former Weathervane Restaurant stands. 

Todd Garofano, president of Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, said there are 2,645 rooms in Saratoga County with 1,645 of those in Saratoga Springs. He noted that while he was uncertain how the additional rooms would affect those already in business, he was optimistic about the future. 

“Most hotels I have spoken with are encouraged so far this year. Advanced bookings for the summer are strong which will allow them to hold onto their rates and not discount,” said Garofano. “It will be interesting to see how the additional inventory will affect us. We already have a great lodging product in Saratoga and new inventory will certainly cause everyone to step up their game.” 

Bed and breakfast owner Amy Smith, who operates the historic Saratoga Arms, said she is not personally worried about the influx of new hotels, noting that her place catered to a niche crowd. 

“We are having a great year so far,” said Smith. “We are a boutique hotel and not a chain, so we have a niche crowd we cater to. It is family owned and run, so for us, I personally do not see [the new hotels] affecting us.” 

Bobby Bowers, representative from STR, a research company which tracks supply and demand data for the hotel industry nationally and globally, said that while reports show room occupancy is down in the county as compared to last year, it could be because of a growth spurt last year. 

“In 2013, there has been no new room supply, but you still have the 2012 number of rooms,” said Bowers. “Because the [2012] growth was so big, you are probably seeing a drop in the numbers.”

Bowers went on to say that 413 additional rooms could possibly affect the market, but that several factors figure into the equation including the condition of existing properties, the strength of the economy in the area and the draws. 

“The 413 rooms is a pretty large number of rooms new on the market,” said Bowers. “That is about a 15 percent growth.” 

Continuing, he said the major question would be the condition of the existing hotels.

“What you have to ask is what is the shape of the existing supply—is it in good health and will these rooms be replacing them?” said Bowers. 

Bob Melvin, who along with his wife Stephanie has operated the Westchester House on Lincoln Avenue for 27 years, said that while they have scaled down operations in recent years in order to have more time to enjoy life, they are also still quite busy. 

“When we first opened, we knew as a very small business that it was hospitality oriented,” said Melvin. “Most people, if they experience a bed and breakfast, they know it is a unique experience. If you go to a major hotel, you most likely are going to encounter [staff] who do not know all the nuances of Saratoga Springs.” 

He said they made the decision to open for the season a week early this year to accommodate guests who want to come in for the Dave Matthews Band. 

“We are sold out for Phish, too” added Melvin. 

He said he had some concerns about the addition of more hotels to the area, noting that while his bed and breakfast probably would not suffer, some of the bigger chains may pull out if room occupancy starts to falter. 

“If the quality starts going down, the major companies will pull out,” said Melvin, noting that once before the Spa City had been a flourishing, vivacious town before many of the grand old hotels had closed down.

“I think that between all the hotel rooms and the revolution of technology, we have to reorganize what we do,” said Melvin. 

Garofano agreed. 

“We’ll all need to continue to work hard to serve our loyal guests well so they return and find new business to keep Saratoga a thriving year-round destination,” he said.

Barbara Fox, owner of Union Gables Bed and Breakfast noted that while their weekends were fully booked, they try to promote themselves differently than a major hotel chain. 

“We hope we will not be affected [by the growth of hotels in the Spa City,] but we try to promote a better way to stay and hope to focus in on a special clientele,” said Fox.  

Asay said she had some concerns about the addition of over 400 new rooms to the area, but she was also confident in her hotel’s viability. 

“Any number of hotel rooms that are added to the pool of existing hotel rooms certainly can affect and impact [all of us,]” said Asay. “I really don’t know what the impact is going to be, if any, with the new rooms, but we are celebrating our 50th year and that says something there.” 

She added that with the 150 celebration this year and the promotion campaign by the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, she felt optimistic for the future. 

“It is always a dance,” said Asay. “How this plays out is a bit of an unknown. But it is true that health, history and horses still draw people to Saratoga.” 

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