After cutting prices and marketing their brand during the recession, local hotels are beginning to see a brighter future.
Hotel occupancy has gone up by 10.8 percent year-to-date — but those numbers are still below pre-recession highs.
“While we didn’t project aggressive growth this year, we have exceeded our expectations in the hotel industry,” said Jack Schmidt, director of sales and marketing for the Carolina Inn.
So far in 2011, occupancy in Orange County hotels has stood at 64.6 percent, 1.4 percentage points below the 2007 high.
Schmidt believes the recovery from the recent recession is partly responsible for the area’s sudden improvement. The tourism industry took a hit in 2009 and 2010 with a six to nine percent drop in revenues.
Laurie Paolicelli, executive director of the Chapel Hill and Orange County Visitors Bureau, also attributed the recent rise in numbers to the recovery.
“Education travel was frozen, government travel was frozen and consumers tightened their belts. On top of this economic slow-down, many new hotels and options opened in surrounding counties, giving travelers more options,” Paolicelli said. “Add to that increased gas prices and we had a perfect storm.”
Paolicelli said the Visitors Bureau — which is supported by the Orange County Board of Commissioners with help from Chapel Hill — kept a strong marketing program in place, reminding travelers of what the town had to offer.
Town hotels also offered various deals to help bring in customers when the industry was taking a hit. The Carolina Inn would run 72-hour sales or special Internet discounts for thrifty travelers.
“We depend a lot on the loyalty of returning customers,” said Barbara Leedy. sales manager at the Hampton Inn. “We do everything in our power to remind students we’re here for their traveling needs, and we go above and beyond to really try to be personable when it comes to working with our guests.”