City nearly leads nation in hotel occupancy rates

Only Oahu, Hawaii, surpassed OKC in ‘12

Friday, August 17, 2012

by Michael Kimball

The Oklahoman

If you’re looking for proof that Oklahoma City’s investment in itself has turned it into a regional weekend getaway destination, consider that it trails only Oahu, Hawaii, in hotel room occupancy growth.

Oklahoma City’s hotel rooms filled up at a rate more than 11 percent faster in the first six months of 2012 than last year, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber President Roy Williams told the city council this week. The city performed more than 8 percent better than the national average.

“Oahu was the only market we didn’t beat,” Williams said. “When that’s your competition in tourism, that’s not bad.” 

The figures come from a quarterly report issued by Smith Travel Research, an industry benchmarking group, said Michael Carrier, president of the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau.  

Business, vacation travel
The fast growth rate has shown itself in Oklahoma City’s hotel tax revenue. The city collected more than $400,000 more than it expected in hotel tax revenue last fiscal year, and it has already projected for strong growth.  

A robust local economy and solid convention traffic brought extra business travel to Oklahoma City, but leisure travel is on the rise as well, Carrier said. 

“They’ve heard us for years talking about Oklahoma City and the great things going on here. That message is taking hold,” he said. “We see weekend getaways, people coming from Dallas or Wichita or Omaha and other drive markets, who are coming at virtually any time of the year depending on what kind of special event is happening. There are a lot of them that come multiple times in the year because we have so many events going on.”  

The growth could intrigue hotel developers, especially as civic leaders ponder how to fund a hotel needed for the MAPS 3 convention center that would likely become Oklahoma City’s largest. Carrier said he hopes developers note the city could use more top-notch, full-service hotels.  

“When you look at the raw numbers, we have about 160 hotels in Oklahoma City, (but) we only have four properties in Oklahoma City itself that have more than 300 rooms,” he said. “We have challenges with convention and other meeting groups of not having larger hotels that have meeting space in the hotel sufficient for meeting rooms for a lot of groups.”

Hard to keep up?
Such huge gains in hotel occupancy are a sign that Oklahoma City has climbed the ladder to another tier of cities as a destination for business and leisure travel, Carrier said. 

As some of the metro’s cornerstone corporations continue expansion projects and rise in international stature, more business travel will come in. And the city is continuing to develop quality of life improvement projects that draw out-of-town visitors.   

“That’s what’s paying off for us now, and the investments that continue to be made, with the arena expansion and with MAPS 3, those are the investments that we think have the opportunity to continue to pay off in future years and to continue the momentum we have now,” Carrier said.

As Oklahoma City settles into its new stratosphere, the growth could be hard to keep up, he acknowledged. But with plenty of work still to be done on citywide projects that are already planned, it’s not out of the question.  

“It will be challenging, but we’re certainly looking forward to giving it a good try,” Carrier said.