Fort Wayne hotels hit occupancy high
By Linda Lipp | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly
Allen County hit an all-time monthly record for hotel and motel room occupancy of 77.3 percent in August, according to data compiled by a national hotel research firm and provided to Visit Fort Wayne.
The Summit City’s average nightly hotel occupancy rate, which was 69.8 percent in August a year ago and 61.2 percent in August 2015, also was higher this year than the rate in Indianapolis and all the other Midwest cities in its Smith Travel Research competitive set, including South Bend, Elkhart, Columbus, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Dayton, Ohio. (see chart)
August, along with July and January, tend to be the busiest months of the year for hotels in Fort Wayne.
“We’re usually around the mid-60s. This high 70s rate is indicative of the way the summer has been, a very strong visitors summer for us,” said Dan O’Connell, president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne.
The average nightly room rate and average revenue earned per room during the month also rose year over year.
The strong economy contributed to the increase in both leisure and business visitors to Fort Wayne. And in addition to the usual business travel, larger construction projects such as the expansion at the Fort Wayne Pickup Assembly plant have brought in a number of specialty construction crews, O’Connell said.
“GM has driven the whole year up for us,” he noted.
Visit Fort Wayne also has stepped up its marketing efforts. Its numbers show a 25-percent increase in responses during its summer advertising and public relations campaign, “so we know our summer advertising programs is generating visitors,” O’Connell said.
The summer campaign garnered more than 30 million “impressions” for the community through advertising placed online and in TV, radio and print channels. The visitors bureau reached 33,000 people with 44,800 impressions each day on Facebook alone.
The city hosted 40-plus travel writers - a record number - who later wrote about their visits for magazines such as AAA and Midwest Living and websites such as Expedia and Travelocity.“We find those writers and invite them into our city so they can see some of our attractions and amenities first hand, and when they write to their websites or an article, it’s like a third party endorsement, a testimonial. It’s so much more valuable because it is independent,” O’Connell said.
The travel writers have accounted, thus far, for 47 articles published, with a combined reach of over 4.4 million monthly page views. While in town, the writers reached an estimated 1 million people via social media.“What we’ve seen is some very strong positive responses,” O’Connell said.
New hotels coming
As many as seven new hotels are planned or rumored to be in the works for downtown Fort Wayne and the Interstate 69 corridor over the next three years.
“I think that makes the case for two things,” O’Connell said. “One is, our economy and tourism industry is paying its fair share. It’s doing good business. It also makes the case that those properties that are currently looking at expanding into Fort Wayne… that it’s the right time for them to expand because the business is there.”
Visit Fort Wayne does an economic impact study every other year on the value of tourism to Fort Wayne. In 2015, the study estimated visitors to Allen County spent $576 million on lodging, meals, activities and other purchases. While about 20 percent stayed with family or friends, 44 percent stayed in the city’s hotels and motels.
There are currently about 5,000 hotel, motel and inn rooms in Fort Wayne and Allen County, and some house primarily transient or temporary residents.
Fort Wayne and Allen County usually experience six or seven occasions a year in which all the local hotels are essentially sold out and the overflow visitors end up booking rooms in Columbia City, Auburn and Huntington. Usually it’s because a large youth sports tournament or two are in town at the same time as other convention traffic, O’Connell said.
“We position ourselves as a great family getaway destination,” he said. “That is the brand we are championing out there in our leisure tourism market, as well as the group business for youth sports. That market position is very timely these days. People still want to go out and do stuff with their kids, and Fort Wayne is affordable.”