Uncovering hotel bargains will be a challenge this summer

The summer travel season is only a few weeks old, but according to R. Mark Woodworth, one thing is already clear.

It will be tough to find a hotel room during the summer of 2006 without booking in advance, said Woodworth, president of Atlanta-based PKF Hospitality Research.

The hotel occupancy rate is expected to average 74.1% in the U.S. this summer, according PKFs Hotel Outlook research.

With demand high and room supply relatively unchanged from previous years, Woodworth said consumers should expect to find few hotel bargains this summer.

Room rates are expected to average $108.44 per night nationally, about 6% higher than in the summer of 2005.

Of course, some cities will be more expensive than others.

For instance, New York is expected to be the most expensive U.S. city with an average daily room rate of $200.28. Honolulu is next at $159.56 per night, followed by San Francisco at $139.34.

What is interesting to note is that summertime is a relative bargain in these cities, Woodworth said.

Travelers looking for less expensive room rates should head to the Sunbelt, Woodworth said.

For example, the average price paid for a hotel room during the summer in Florida and Arizona is 15% to 30% less than the average daily room rate for the year, Woodworth said.

PKFs research shows travelers will likely move forward with their vacation plans despite high gas prices, which in June were averaging $3.39 per gallon, according to AAAs June Fuel Gauge Report.

Regardless of recessions or energy crises, we have observed that the public continues to travel, but they will alter their traditional plans, Woodworth said.  This summer, in order to compensate for higher gas prices and air fares, we are seeing a migration toward more economical accommodations.

PKF projects that occupancy levels for limited-service hotels will be 74.8%, up 6.2% from last summer.  By comparison, full-service hotels are projected to have an average occupancy of 73.8%, up just 0.5% from last summer.

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