Buffalo hotel occupancy above national average

February 1, 2012 Updated Feb 1, 2012 at 7:50 AM EDT

By WKBW News
By Business First by James Fink, Buffalo Business First Reporter

February 1, 2012 Updated Feb 1, 2012 at 7:50 AM EDT

One year ago representatives from Visit Buffalo Niagara predicted the number of hotels booked in Buffalo and Erie County in December 2010 would not be repeated in this past December.

It turns out they were right and wrong.

According to data compiled by Smith Travel Research of Nashville, hotel occupancy rates in Buffalo and Erie County fell in December by 2.9 percent from the previous year, dropping to 51.5 percent from 53.1 percent.

The reason?

Last year, Buffalo hosted the World Juniors hockey championship series of nearly two weeks, an event that attracted more than 331,000 fans, many of whom stayed overnight.

"We knew there would be a drop this year and there was," said Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, Visit Buffalo Niagara president and chief executive officer.

But, what surprised Gallagher-Cohen was even with the predicted December drop, the Buffalo and Erie County area hotels still had a strong month. The area's 51.5 percent hotel room occupancy rate was still above the U.S. average of 47.6 percent and dwarfed those reported by Niagara Falls, which saw its hotels operating at a 42.6 percent occupancy rate and Rochester's 39.6 percent rate.

The U.S. average in December rose 4.1 percent, increasing from 45.8 percent while Niagara Falls saw a 4.8 percent hike from 40.6 percent. Rochester reported a 7.9 percent occupancy increase from 36.7 percent.

Hotel room occupancy rates are considered one of the key economic factors in the hospitality industry.

More impressively, for all of 2011, Buffalo and Erie County not only saw an increase in hotel occupancy rates, the area remains well above the national average.

For the year, Buffalo and Erie County had a 66.1 percent hotel room occupancy rate, a 2.4 percent increase over 2010's total.

Like the December occupancy numbers, Buffalo and Erie County easily topped the national average, which was 60.1 percent for 2010 and up 4.4 percent from 2009 when a 57.5 percent rate was reported.

Gallagher-Cohen attributed Buffalo's increase to a number of factors, including increased bookings and large-scale events like the National Trust for Historic Preservation annual convention that was held in Buffalo during October. More than 2,500 people attended the conference.

"A lot of good things happened last year," Gallagher-Cohen said. "All of our trends are trending upward in a very positive way."

The current year and the immediate years also look good, Gallagher-Cohen said.

Visit Buffalo Niagara, last year, secured $125 million in future bookings of conventions, meetings and sporting events.

By comparison, Niagara Falls also had a strong year, thanks to aggressive bookings handled by the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp.

Niagara Falls saw its hotel occupancy rate increase 1.9 percent to 59.4 percent from 58.3 percent.

Rochester reported an 0.5 percent increase in its hotel occupancy rate to 55.7 percent from 55.4 percent.

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