What it Takes To Be a Top-Performing Hotel During a Downturn
22% of Hotels Grew Either Occupancy or Rate
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Despite every corner of the hotel industry being challenged, a handful of hotels in the U.S. have been able to grow either occupancy, rate or both during the 12-month period ending March 2021.
That translated into 9% of hotels that were able to achieve full revenue-per-available-room growth.
"So there was a significant number of hotels, more than you would expect, that were able to truly grow RevPAR during the first year of the pandemic," she said.
What Types of Hotels Were Successful?
Hotels that did particularly well during the pandemic included smaller economy and midscale properties in small metro and interstate areas, Smith said.
The set of hotels able to grow RevPAR were also geographically diverse, representing a majority of markets in the U.S. All top 25 U.S. markets except for four — Boston, Miami, Oahu and San Francisco — had at least one hotel that achieved growth in that metric, she said. That equates to 149 out of 166 markets.
"Even in markets like Chicago that were heavily impacted had at least one hotel that grew RevPAR," she said.
Smith said there were some unique circumstances during the pandemic that influenced what types of hotels were successful, such as areas where travelers felt most comfortable visiting.
Examining further that 9% of hotels that grew RevPAR, she said almost 50% of them were producing occupancy growth alone, offsetting any ADR losses. Another 40% were growing both KPIs.
"My immediate thought was, well they just must have had a really terrible 2019, just lucked out and grew at the right time," she said. "But taking a look at their occupancy, it wasn't a case of an easy comp or natural disaster-related demand — it really was true occupancy growth."
In normal times, these hotels aren't necessarily the highest performers, but they are consistent.
Smith said the top-performing hotels were also able to grow both weekday and weekend occupancy.
"We saw them grow weekday occupancy even more than they grew weekend occupancy," she said. "So they were going out and finding some elusive weekday occupancy that no one else seemed to be able to find, and they were leveraging that to produce their RevPAR growth."
She said that when comparing the hotels that did grow RevPAR against the rest of the hotel set, the hotels that increased the metric shifted some of that demand to weekend, "which is abnormal in terms of where that demand has been for the rest of the industry."
Comparing With the Great Recession
During the Great Recession, every U.S. top 25 market had at least one hotel that grew RevPAR, and even a handful that had more than 20 hotels with RevPAR growth.
The difference between now and then, however, is while these successful hotels were concentrated in smaller properties outside urban areas, they weren't all in the economy and midscale classes, Smith said.
There were slightly more hotels during the Great Recession that were able to grow RevPAR than rate, but still the emphasis was on occupancy growth.
Additionally, these hotels had a bit more stable demand mix, such as group business, compared to the hotels during COVID-19.
Are there recession-proof hotels out there can't be taken down?
"There were 166 hotels out of the entire set that managed to grow RevPAR during both COVID-19 and the Great Recession. So very small portion, but yes there are recession-proof hotels out there," Smith said.
Unsurprisingly, these hotels are the smaller economy hotels outside urban areas.
"There is a bit of a trade-off there, if you're underperforming in normal times by $20, $30 in RevPAR, is that where you want to be or are you comfortable being stable regardless of what's going on in the economy, whether you're in a downturn environment," she added.
The lesson learned isn't that an owner should go to their nearest small town and buy an economy hotel, Smith said. It's important to look at the strategy and demand sources.
"Determine is this something that I'm comfortable with just for now when we're not in a downturn environment, am I comfortable with just getting as much growth as I can and I'll just white-knuckle it through a recession or is there something I can be doing to find a more stable demand source mix so that when I enter these recessionary environments, it's less of a volatile situation for my hotel," she said.
STR provides premium data benchmarking, analytics and marketplace insights for global hospitality sectors. Founded in 1985, STR maintains a presence in 15 countries with a corporate North American headquarters in Hendersonville, Tennessee, an international headquarters in London, and an Asia Pacific headquarters in Singapore. STR was acquired in October 2019 by CoStar Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: CSGP), the leading provider of commercial real estate information, analytics and online marketplaces. For more information, please visit str.com and costargroup.com.