More people booked hotel rooms in Baltimore this summer than last summer, and they paid more for them. But rising hotel rates are making the city less attractive to meeting and convention planners, who are taking business to Philadelphia, Washington and elsewhere.
That was the conclusion of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, which released results from its quarterly report and a new Baltimore Tourism Barometer yesterday.
The barometer offers additional information - including attendance at area venues, airport arrivals and hotel room and sales-tax numbers - to help the city, its hotels and attractions market and plan better.
"This is the first time BACVA has been able to provide this type of research to our hospitality community," said Leslie R. Doggett, president and chief executive officer of the quasi-governmental tourism agency. "The barometer is based on quantitative research, not anecdotal information, that gauges the destination's health so our tourism partners can keep a collective finger on the pulse of business on an ongoing basis."
That report said attendance was down during the summer at area attractions and at meetings and conventions. The number of conventions and other events, 34, was the same this year as it was last year.
Based on the general quarterly report, BACVA said the city did well in the first quarter of fiscal 2005, which ended Sept. 30, and included most of the summer.
Hospitality-related business also is doing well in the second quarter, which ends Dec. 31.
The number of hotel room nights, an industry measure of the total nights booked for hotel stays, was up in the quarter to 64,702 from 51,738 during the 2003 quarter.
Attendance at conventions and direct spending were down. The group attributed that to one large convention last year of the Church of God in Christ, which BACVA said brought many people and $22.4 million to town for five days, but booked many shared hotel rooms.
Hotel occupancy in the quarter was 78.6 percent, better than the national average of 67.1 percent.
"Our summer was better than last year," said Meade Atkeson, general manager of the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel. "That was in part from citywide conventions and in part to in-house meetings. We're finding our rates have been up consistently all year long. Business will almost be as good as pre-Sept. 11."
But the city's average room rate pushed Baltimore into a category with or beyond the costs of first-tier cities such as Washington and Philadelphia, putting Baltimore at a disadvantage, BACVA officials said.
Average room rates
Room rates averaged $152.49, higher than Philadelphia's $128.69 but lower than Washington's $155.14.
More than half of the events booked this summer and fall will take place in the next year or so.
In the past, the majority of conventions and meetings had been booked three to five years in advance, said Debra Dignan, associate vice president of convention sales for BACVA. The gap between booking and trips is closing as convention and meeting planners shop around and wait until the last minute to commit.
"We have to consistently adjust our strategy and adjust to what we're facing," she said. "We're targeting a list of customers that can pay our rates and can book in soft periods, in December, January and February."
The estimate for room nights in the current quarter is 83,854, up from fewer than 50,000 in the corresponding quarter last year. And spending could rise in the next few quarters.
Among meetings booked this fall are five medical and four educational conventions. Such groups traditionally stay longer and spend more, BACVA officials said.