Five basic facts about the hotel market, especially in New York

Big-city hoteliers will be happier sooner than their small-time counterparts. It looks like demand for rooms in smaller cities is going to take longer to come back, with rate increases unlikely, it seems until next summer. The New York market has already shown a solid recovery, thanks to the corporate cards that keep road warriors away from home. For the little guys, though, the future isn’t as bright … at least, it won’t be until almost a year from now.

According to a study by Smith Travel Research, here are five interesting (and important) facts about the U.S. hotel market:

1. Flat occupancy: Small-town and highway hotels stayed basically flat for the first half of 2010, at 49 percent. Meanwhile, metro markets – like New York, Chicago and Washington, DC – pushed from 61 percent for the first half of 2009 to 65 percent for the same period in 2010.

2. Follow the money: Major hotel companies, including Marriott and Wyndham, have demonstrated that the cities have been kinder to them financially. The cash is coming from bigger city properties.
3. New York is crucial: Rates have been on the rise since March in New York, after the city experienced drops for almost a year and a half. This has been buoyed by business travel, which is where the real money is.

4. New York’s occupancy is 50 percent higher than the United States: While the overall U.S. occupancy rate reached only 56 percent for the first half of 2010, the city attained a level of 79 percent. Again, business travelers have contributed heavily to this trend.

5. Hotel rates dropped, except in New York: Excluding New York, U.S. hotel rates fell, on average, 2.7 percent (2 percent when you include New York). New York, which accounts for a mere 1.9 percent of room supply in the United States, it’s responsible for close to 6 percent of revenue.

According to USA Today:

“New York City is skewing the numbers,” David Loeb, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co. in Milwaukee tells Bloomberg. “Urban and suburban markets are doing the best while the others are recovering more slowly.”

[photo by Francisco Diez via Flickr]

Top five cities for travel spending … and the bottom of the barrel, too

Hey, Arlington, Virginia residents, why are you spending so much on travel? Do you really want to get out that badly? According to a report by, the folks who live in Arlington spent twice the national average on travel last year: a whopping $3,534 per household. Nationwide, the norm came in at $1,571 for 2009. Meanwhile, Detroit residents spent a meager $1,158 per household on travel last year due largely to the dismal economic conditions there.

The top five cities for travel spending last year (i.e., people who live there paid to go elsewhere) aren’t terribly surprising, in that they tend to be affluent and close to major airports.

1. Arlington, VA – $3,534
2. San Francisco, CA – $3,460
3. Washington, DC – $3,409
4. Scottsdale, AZ – $3,372
5. New York, NY – $3,274
And if there’s a top five list, there must be one for the bottom, right? Garland, Texas residents either love the place so much they don’t like to leave or simply have little appreciation for the outside world: they spent an average of $647 per household on travel last year.

5. Greensboro, NC – $820
4. Lexington, KY – $809
3. Memphis, TN – $683
2. Chula Vista, CA – $676
1. Garland, TX – $647

[photo by Beverly & Pack via Flickr]

Congress says airline fees, basic math obscure deals

Deal-hunting used to be relatively simple. You’d fire up your computer, hit a few aggregators and online travel agencies, maybe a few airline sites. Then, you’d pick your ticket and pull the trigger. The lowest number wins, right?

Wrong … at least according to Congess.

Down in Washington, the folks who’d rather not be distracted by continued high unemployment or wars in two countries dispatched investigators to dig into the wave of new fees introduced over the past few years make it hard to figure out where the best deal is. Your cheap ride seems great, of course, until you want to grab a pillow and check a bag … or not check a bag, depending on the airline.

According to USA Today:

Since 2007, many airlines have been charging for services that were traditionally included in the price of a ticket. That’s improved airline bottom lines in a tough economy but raised the ire of travelers who find themselves nickeled and dimed to substantially higher costs.

The mathematical gymnastics involved – e.g., adding a bag-checking fee to the ticket price – are more common in Europe, where easyJet and Ryanair have forced passengers to do addition for years.

While Congressional investigators don’t think passengers can do the math for themselves, it’s clear that the airlines have figured it out: 10 U.S. airlines raked in $7.8 billion in ancillary fees last year. Delta led the pack with $1.6 billion.

TSA job demographic: must eat lots of pizza

The TSA is looking for fitness freaks and health gurus to keep our planes and airports safe. This is a pretty important job, so it makes sense that the agency would be committed to sourcing the best of the best. When you walk through airport security, the goal is to make you think twice about that box-cutter tucked in your boot.

That’s why the TSA is advertising its open positions on pizza boxes.

Before stuffing your pie-hole with a slice, the TSA wants to own your eyeballs for a moment, using that moment before you flip the top of the box back and dive into a greasy delight to entice you to apply. These ads, the only thing standing between you and caloric heaven, are for positions at Dulles and Reagan National in the Washington, DC area. Potential candidates are offered careers “where X-ray vision and federal benefits come standard,” according to USA Today.

So, what kind of hopeful TSA pro can we expect to find responding to a pizza-box ad? Do we really need to ask?

[photo by @tjohansmeyer via TweetPhoto]

White Collar Travel: Hotel Behavior Honed by Habit

Spend enough time on the road, and your instinct takes over. Soldiers would liken it to their training kicking in. unlike the warriors who protect our way of life, the business traveler’s reflex isn’t intentional. Rather, it evolves from experience and is honed by habit. After a while, you’re “always on” … which is what you want. When a networking opportunity arises – or you get the chance to pick up some competitive intelligence – you want to be ready to pounce.

A friend of mine was headed to Washington, D.C. a few years ago and invited me to tag along. I was involved with a small consulting company at that point and was between projects (which is code for: “I needed one”), so I dashed off with him for a few days. Taking advantage of the status I had with Hilton, I got us a suite on the club level, where we dropped our bags before heading to the lounge.

Again, I had no business plans for this jaunt. But, one of the other people in the lounge atop the Hilton Embassy Row turned to me and asked those four fecund words: “What do you do?” Forgetting my friend, I went from elevator pitch to the intricacies of my company’s style to a friendly game of “mine is bigger” (confession: his was) – standard fare among itinerant white collar folk. It ended with the swapping of cards, though we never spoke to each other again (and knew that we wouldn’t).It didn’t matter that the effort would lead to nothing – I’d suspected the outcome from the start, and I’m sure he did, too. I wound up in character because I couldn’t help it. This one-time trip offered little potential, but my response was driven by years of making connections. If I’d been on a long-term project, I might have seen the guy again in the lounge the next week. Maybe some business would have come from it.

And, my case is not unique. My mentor from an early consulting job once cut himself off mid-sentence when he heard someone at another table mention a competitor’s name. He listened intently for a few minutes before continuing with what he was saying. On planes, of course, we all talk, poke and prod to find a new client or get a sense of what the competition is up to.

The frequent business traveler, after a while, surrenders to the job – sometimes to a caricature of it. It’s only recognized as an occupational hazard years after you’ve given up the life, usually. Until then, it’s like a heartbeat – something the mind-body duality does for you.