City sees upswing in hotel demand

Has Altoona’s hotel industry grown too fast over the past two years? According to one source, demand for rooms is increasing, but economic development leaders are set to check in with local hotel representatives in October to get a clearer picture.

Altoona’s total hotel demand, or total rooms sold in a year, increased by 13 percent in 2017 compared to 2016, according to Smith Travel Research, the leading global provider of hotel statistics and analyses.

That trend is continuing as Altoona’s total hotel demand for 2018 is up another 12 percent year-to-date, as of the end of July, said Mark Ickes, executive director of Explore Altoona, the county’s designated tourism marketing organization.

There are about 1,465 rooms among all hotels in Blair County, and the 13 percent increase is the equivalent of 32,000 rooms sold in the year. Six new hotels opened within the past two years, adding more than 450 new rooms, Ickes said.

Despite the increase in room demand, aggregate hotel occupancy among Altoona’s hotels for 2017 was 54 percent, according to Smith Travel Research statistics shared by Ickes.

Ickes said the potential for continued growth is “extremely strong.”

Explore Altoona targets “family fun” advertisements to areas within about a three-hour radius of Altoona including areas of Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.

“Most travel to Blair County is business related, but leisure reasons give additional reasons for the increase,” Ickes said.

Altoona’s increase in the change of total hotel demand for 2017 led seven other Pennsylvania markets, including Erie; Harrisburg. Johnstown, Lancaster, Pittsburgh. State College and Williamsport. Of these other markets, the change ranged from a decrease of 8 percent to an increase of 7 percent.

In addition, the Altoona hotel market is significantly ahead of the national trend in changes in total room demand, Ickes said.

The national total hotel demand increased by 2.6 percent in 2017.

Blair County Chamber of Commerce Director Joe Hurd said the chamber and the Altoona-Blair County Development Corp. will be holding a meeting with hotel representatives in October to delve into the evident growth of the hotel industry in the county.

“We feel we really want to be able to get a real strong sense from hotels themselves what their situations are,” Hurd said, adding that the meeting is not set up with the intention of making it seem like there is a huge problem with the number of open rooms.

“A lot has happened in a short amount of time in terms of local growth of hotel an lodging industry,” Hurd said, referring to the six new hotels that opened in the past two years.

“One thing we are concerned about most is whether it is unmanaged growth,” Hurd said. “The only people who can put that in perspective is the hotels themselves.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.