For the hotel industry, the past year and a half has been one of the most trying (to put it mildly) in decades, marked by a failing real estate market, an oversupply of rooms caused by the previous decade’s building boom, and tightening purse strings all around. For hotel lovers, however, the past 18 months have been a traveler’s delight, full of never-before-seen deals and discounts. But with the economy now finding its legs, is this dynamic about to change?
Across the country, occupancy rates are starting to rise again, with leisure and, perhaps most important, business travelers hitting the road in greater numbers. Though experts agree that it will be years before the industry recovers—if it ever fully does—from the shocks to the financial system, the days of cut-rate rooms and value-added perks may be coming to an end. Additionally, hotels are following airlines into à la carte pricing by tacking on ever more surcharges and fees to room bills—a trend that’s expected to continue. At the same time, a handful of cities and states, Baltimore and Connecticut among them, are weighing the option of levying higher taxes on hotel rooms in an effort to close budget gaps.
That said, there are still plenty of ways to find value this year. As “Most New U.S. Hotel Rooms” attests, hotel prices have yet to hit bottom in certain markets, often those places where new properties are still opening, their foundations having been laid pre-crisis. And then there are loyalty programs, which have become an increasingly important way for hotels to court their frequent guests. Now, more than ever, travelers can use and accrue their program points in creative ways. Meanwhile, properties around the world are harnessing new technology to become more accessible and responsive to their guests, using social media to broadcast lucrative packages and empowering travelers with smart-phone applications. So even as prices rise, there are ever more ways for informed travelers to find the right room at the right price. Read on for T+L’s take on how to navigate the new hotel landscape.