Charlotte hotels aren’t yet as busy as they were before the pandemic — but they’re getting close.
What’s happening: Local hotels are starting to fill up again thanks to an uptick in travel, which is a result of a return to in-person work and more leisure trips.
Why it matters: Travel of all sorts — especially corporate — slowed to a near halt during the pandemic, which dried up business for companies catering to travelers, especially hotels.
What they’re saying: “Our hotel business has never been better,” says Birju Patel, president of hotel developer BPR Properties.
- BPR owns 25 properties, including the 250-room Embassy Suites in Uptown, which opened in 2017.
- This is the best year the Embassy Suites has ever had from a revenue perspective, Patel says.
Since March of last year, “the floodgates just opened up” as people began traveling for fun once again.
- “What’s really been helping is these events Charlotte’s been doing,” he adds, citing Charlotte FC and big concerts like Garth Brooks.
- Corporate travel used to make up about 75% of business at Patel’s Charlotte hotel. The reminder was leisure. These days, he estimates leisure makes up about 90%.
Five or 10 years ago, you wouldn’t have considered Charlotte a destination, Patel says.
“That’s not the case now. People are coming from all over to visit Charlotte,” he adds.
Between the lines: Leisure travel is an increasingly important driver for hotel traffic in Charlotte, the head of the Greater Charlotte Hospitality & Tourism Alliance told me recently.
- It helps that Charlotte has hosted a handful of major events in the last year, including the sold-out Duke’s Mayo Classic last September, then the Rolling Stones concert at Bank of America Stadium later that month.
- Leisure and hospitality employment shed jobs by the thousands during the pandemic. But since adding jobs for months, employment in the industry is off by just 6,400 from May 2019 employment, 4.4% below that peak, according to data the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority sent to Axios.
By the numbers: For the first five months of 2022, Mecklenburg County’s average hotel occupancy rate was 59.6%, per the CRVA. That’s up from 52% in 2021 and 41% in 2020.
- In 2019, hotel occupancy countywide averaged 69.3%. In 2018, it was 70%.
For Uptown hotels, occupancy has grown from 31.9% in January 2022 to 63.3% in May. The return of group business — like conventions — has helped drive that growth, according to Kelly Greenfield, a CRVA spokesperson.
At the JW Marriott, which opened last year, occupancy and demand has been improving every month since February, exceeding all forecasts, according to Tom Dolan, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.
- “This has largely been driven by the return of the corporate segment with both business transient travel and corporate events coming back strong and reflected in hotel occupancy at the JW Charlotte exceeding 70% for the most recent 30 days,” Dolan said in a statement to Axios.
Flashback: During the pandemic and amid the travel slump, several hotel projects in Charlotte were put on hold, including BPR’s The Moxy at Brevard and 4th streets, and the 250-room InterContinental Hotel planned for the restored Carolina Theatre property on North Tryon.
- But BPR’s resumed plans for The Moxy. Late last year, they reengaged with architects and engineers, and just got a land development permit. They’ll have a building permit soon and after that will lock down financing. If all goes well, the goal is to begin construction this year, Patel says.
“Our confidence in Charlotte altogether – having the Embassy Suites and seeing how well it’s performed – our confidence in The Moxy is extremely high,” Patel says.
Editor’s note: We updated this story with the correct number of rooms at the Embassy Suites. It has 250 rooms, not 150.