Away on Business: Any Room At The Inns?

Business travelers who have found the high demand for hotel space an expensive challenge the past few years may be in for some relief - though not where they might expect it.

The United States is in the midst of a lodging boom, according to one report. But most of the growth is not in traditional city center hotels. It is occurring in cheap to midpriced motels, especially the extended stay-style inns that have proliferated in recent years.

The report from F.W. Dodge and PainWebber Inc. published in the March issue of Hotels Magazine estimates that 164,570 rooms will be added to the market this year, "one of the highest annual levels of new openings ever recorded in the United States."

Nearly 77 percent of those rooms are in the budget, economy, and midpriced end of the market. Thirty-five percent of the total is in the so-called economy market, which includes such brands as Holiday Inn Express, Comfort Inns, Fairfield Inn, and La Quinta.

The midpriced range, which includes Hampton Inns, Courtyard by Marriott, and Wingate among others, accounts for more than 27 percent of the new space, according to the report. The bottom-line budget properties, such as Super 8, Amerhost, and Motel 6, account for 14 percent of the expansion. Increasing levels of travel combined with only modest expansion in the past few years have resulted in near-record occupancy at many hotels. In some cities at certain times, popular hotels are booked nearly full. One result is a seller's market when it comes to price. In New York City, the average daily rate for a hotel room recently hit $230, according to Travel Weekly magazine.

This is all part of a cycle in the hotel business that expands as demand increases. Some experts have estimated the current expansion will lead to an over-supply of space before too long in some areas.

The lodging industry has also undergone name changing. One of the latest is Milwaukee-based Budgetel Inns, which later this year will become Baymont. The company, which owns and franchises 153 properties in 30 states, says the change reflects what the motels have become with the addition of such amenities as complimentary room-delivered continental breakfast, key cards for all guest rooms, and specially designed business class rooms.

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