Tuesday, March 30, 1999

N.Ky. hotel rooms sit vacant

Supply grows faster than occupancy

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Northern Kentucky got a rude wake-up call Monday when tourism officials reported the region has more hotel rooms than it can fill.

        Even though demand for hotel rooms grew by 6.6 percent last year - more than double the national average of 3.1 percent — the number of rooms grew by 11.9 percent in 1998 and 10.7 percent in 1997, according to the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau annual report.

        The overbuilding has made it “nearly impossible” for demand to keep up, resulting in a 5 percent drop in occupancy rates last year, bureau Chairman Carl Ward said Monday.

        “If the demand growth had occurred without any increase in supply, occupancy in Northern Kentucky would have been 12 percent higher,” Mr. Ward said during the bureau's annual meeting.

        Northern Kentucky's booming economy and the number of high-profile companies moving into or expanding in the region — companies that include Ashland Inc., Toy ota and Gibson Greetings — has spurred some developers and chain hotels to overbuild, officials said.

        “All the hotels are feeling it right now,” said Jim Willman, vice president of the Drawbridge Estates hotel and convention complex in Fort Mitchell.

        Northern Kentucky has about 6,000 hotel rooms, up from about 4,000 just three years ago, Mr. Willman said.

        Much of the growth has come from chains and limited-service hotels and motels in and around Florence. But two 300-room Marriott hotels — one near the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and the other on the Covington riverfront — are to open this year.

        “Obviously our challenge is filling these rooms up over the next few years,” Mr. Ward said.

        The bureau is optimistic that the $37 million Northern Kentucky Convention Center that opened in Covington late last year will help fill many of the rooms.

        Nick Ellison, the bureau's incoming chairman, said there are also a number of tourist attractions set to open over the next year or so, including the Newport aquarium, an adjacent $100 million entertainment complex and the NASCAR speedway developer Jerry Carroll is building in Gallatin County.

        “These are very exciting times for Northern Kentucky,” said Kentucky Tourism Secretary Ann Latta. “It's hard to keep up with all that's going on up here.

        During the meeting, Southbank Partners — a group promoting development and tourism in the region's river cities — unveiled a computerized informational kiosk that will pro vide visitors with information about Greater Cincinnati.

        Southbank hopes to place as many as 50 of the kiosks in high-traffic pedestrian areas, such as at the airport and in hotel lobbies, in communities on both sides of the Ohio River over the next few years. The first will appear this summer.

        Users can learn about restaurants, tourist attractions and events, as well as make hotel and dinner reservations, consult an interactive map or even call a cab.

        The bureau also reported that tourism resulted in $176 million in spending in Northern Kentucky during 1998, up from $163 million in 1997 and $112 million in 1992.


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