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New Holiday Inn Express in Jeffersonville Indiana

Southern Indiana sees growth in lodging options despite pandemic

By BROOKE MCAFEE brooke.mcafee@newsandtribune.com Apr 2, 2021

3 min to read

SOUTHERN INDIANA — Southern Indiana continues to see hotel openings during the pandemic, and, although hotels have seen major drops in occupancy rates in the past year, the numbers are climbing back for area hotels.

Jim Epperson, executive director of SoIN Tourism said that despite setbacks caused by the pandemic, he feels optimistic about the future of lodging in Southern Indiana.

SoIN Tourism reports a total of 2,834 rooms across 32 lodging properties in Southern Indiana, and the number of available rooms has increased 6.1% from the same period last year, according to Epperson.

The 72-room Best Western Louisville North hotel at 1485 Broadway St. in Clarksville opened in February this year, joining a number of other Clarksville hotels near Interstate 65.

The new 94-room Holiday Inn Express & Suites Louisville North at 1635 Veterans Parkway in Jeffersonville is to open in late April.

The area near River Ridge Commerce Center in Jeffersonville is also seeing the addition of hotels. A new 85-room Fairfield Inn & Suites opened in September 2020 at 3000 Gottbrath Parkway, and construction for a 114-room Hilton Garden Inn began in the fall of 2020 near Interstate 265 and Ind. 62.

New hotels are an exciting development from a “destination standpoint,” Epperson said.

“A destination will always have to reinvent itself to stay competitive, and that includes hotel rooms — either new hotels or a major refurbishment of old hotels are key to remaining competitive,” Epperson said. “Those properties help us draw in sports tournaments, meetings or whatever.”

Over the past year, occupancy rates in Southern Indiana have fluctuated dramatically according to data SoIN has received from STR Global, a company that tracks hospitality data. During the week of March 7, 2020, the overall occupancy for lodging in Clark and Floyd counties was at 54%, and it dropped quickly to 23% by the week of April 11.

The rates increased in the summer of 2020, and they stayed close to 50% from July to August. In summer months, occupancy would typically be in the 70% to 80% range, Epperson said.

The occupancy rates dipped again in the winter months and were around 30% for the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Rates have since increased for the week of March 20 to 59%, Epperson said.

Occupancy rates

Data collected by STR Global shows occupancy rates for hotels in Southern Indiana.

Graph courtesy of SoIN Tourism

Although several openings took place during the pandemic, Epperson said there has been an apparent decrease in the number of planned hotels in the pipeline for 2021 and 2022.

“I’ve been very encouraged about recent growth but disappointed about any lost in the pipeline,” he said.

Epperson said there haven’t been many hotel closures in recent years except for some smaller properties such as motels. The list of Southern Indiana hotels on SoIN Tourism’s website includes mostly hotels, but there are also a few bed and breakfast and vacation rental options listed.

Southern Indiana’s proximity to Louisville is a major factor for lodging in Clark and Floyd counties, and in addition to marketing Louisville attractions. SoIN Tourism markets Southern Indiana as a “place to stay, a place to eat and a place to shop,” Epperson said.

Planned growth in Southern Indiana is also a good sign for local hotels, he said.

“Thank goodness we have projects like the South Clarksville redevelopment and River Heritage Conservancy out there planning and raising funds for ORIGIN Park,” Epperson said. “All of those things bode very well for us.”

As vaccinations continue and large events return to the area, Epperson expects leisure travel to drive higher occupancy rates at local hotels due to pent-up demand. However, he doesn’t expect large corporate conventions to return immediately.

Abbey Road on the River is one of the major events planned for the Southern Indiana area — the annual festival was canceled last year due to the pandemic, but it is scheduled to take place Labor Day weekend this year. The Beatles-inspired musical festival has an overall economic impact of $1 million in Southern Indiana, and it brings a large number of visitors to local hotels.

The new Best Western Plus Louisville North in Clarksville celebrated its ribbon cutting Thursday. Paul Drake, co-owner and operator of the hotel, told the News and Tribune Thursday that “it’s definitely not 2019, but it’s also definitely not 2020” for hotels, and the Clarksville hotel saw 20% to 25% higher occupancy than predicted for the month of March.

Even as certain events return, he doubts that 2021 will be a “robust, full ensemble” of conferences and trade shows that would allow the hotel to “fire on all cylinders.

“A property like this I think should be in the 80% plus or minus overall occupancy, and we doubt we would see that in 2021, but we certainly could in 2022 or 2023,” Drake said. “Certainly we are looking forward to seeing more the trade show and convention activity come back.”

Derrick Sousley, vice president of operations for the Indiana Hospitality Group, said the company is preparing to open the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Louisville North in Jeffersonville with the goal of opening in time for the Kentucky Derby. The construction began before the pandemic, and the pandemic slowed down the opening, he said.

Indiana Hospitality Group’s properties are now seeing occupancy numbers similar to 2018, Sousley said, so he is optimistic about opening the Jeffersonville hotel.

“We’re seeing some greater numbers coming in [due to] pent-up demand,” he said. “People are now ready to leave their houses as states are opening back up — people have been stuck in their houses and are chomping at the bit for leisure travel.”

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