COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
Brandon’s hotel occupancy rates fell 2.6 per cent in 2013 compared to the previous year, according to the latest statistics from the city’s economic development department.
A lack of major construction jobs in the area may be the reason for a decline in Brandon hotel occupancy rates, according to one local hotelier.
Sheryl Woydon, general manager at Lakeview Inns & Suites, said construction of the Walmart Supercentre, Brandon’s new police station and work on 18th Street following the 2011 flood, are just a few of the projects that kept their hotel busy in recent years.
"There’s not really much going on for construction activity this year," she said. "We do get a lot of crews and the people that come in specifically for projects … I think all the hotels are kind of in the same boat."
According to the latest statistics from the city’s economic development department, Brandon’s hotel occupancy rates fell 2.6 per cent in 2013 compared to the previous year. In November, the number dropped 4.5 per cent from the same month in 2012.
Koch Fertilizer stimulates a lot of room nights when they do their turnover, which according to Woydon happens every few years.
"They usually have a shutdown every second year and it didn’t happen last year," she said. "That definitely makes a big impact."
Sandy Trudel, the city’s director of economic development, said historically Brandon’s rates are on the lower side. Year-to-date hotel occupancy in November 2013 was 56 per cent, compared to 58.6 per cent in 2012.
"We never like to see any decrease," she said. "We would prefer obviously to see an upward movement, but it is not a significant enough change overall to the big picture to be concerned at this point in time."
The department couldn’t pinpoint a specific reason for the decline.
"What I’m attributing the change to is just an overall slowing of the overnight stays in Manitoba," she said.
In Winnipeg, hotel occupancy dropped just over 10 per cent in November 2013, compared to November 2012. In Winnipeg’s November year-to-date statistics, hotel occupancy fell 3.9 per cent.
"Why? That’s always that million dollar question," Trudel said. "It can be related to weather, any variety of reasons, but we looked at it and events seem to be strong, and the normal business seemed to be strong."
Dave Carriere, general manager of the Keystone Motor Inn and president of Westman Accommodations Group, said he has seen a similar dip at not only the hotel, but also the beer store and lounge.
"Our hotels are less full than they were last year," he said. "Honestly, I’d like to say I know what the problem is … I never really have seen a softness like this everywhere, in every department that we operate."
Carriere said they look at their numbers year over year to compare, and this is the first year he’s had a "big concern" about the softness without really understanding why.
"There must be something with people not spending as much, period. Be it on rooms, be it on beer, be it on food, like I said, everything is soft."
He said it may be that there are too many rooms available in Brandon. There have been a few hotels built in Brandon over the past five years, which added a significant amount of rooms to the city.
The city’s hotel tax has been in place since July 2012, which adds $3.15 per night to a guest’s bill. Hoteliers say they still receive complaints about the extra tax.
"We already have eight per cent (PST), then the five per cent (GST), and then another $3.15 a night … it adds up," Woydon said. "We’re not really a destination city, most of the places that have accommodations tax are destinations."
Woydon said they tell guests to contact city hall if they want to voice their concerns.
"But mostly they don’t go that far, they just kind of rant on us a little bit," she said. "When it first was implemented (complaints) happened more. Now my regulars, they just expect it, but if we do have a group in ... that stayed the year before it was implemented, it does make a big difference if they’re renting 25 rooms."
So far the city has brought in just over $800,000 in accommodations tax — roughly $722,000 went into the accommodation tax reserve, and roughly $91,000 to the large event acquisition reserve.
Trudel said about $300,000 has been given out for events.
"It’s starting to do what we had hoped it would do, which is great," she said. "Both interest and application levels are increasing, so I hope that in 2014, we see far more applications and then that continues to grow onward."
Jackie Keyes, executive director of Brandon First, said the tourism organization is not concerned about the dip in hotel occupancy, as it seems to be a trend provincewide.
Keyes said they are looking ahead to the next year and are always looking to bring "that next big thing" to Brandon.
"We have a focus in three areas. We look at sports, we look at agriculture and we look at government and conventions," she said.
While she wouldn’t get into the specifics, Keyes said there is "lots in the pipeline."
"Some major sporting events that we’re looking to draw in, as well as reaching out into some different sectors that maybe we haven’t worked with before," she said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 28, 2014