Last updated: 10:21 AM ET, Thu March 12 2015

Boston Strong: Beantown Hotel Bookings Rise In Spite Of Brutal Winter

Hotel & Resort | Ryan Rudnansky | March 12, 2015

Boston Strong: Beantown Hotel Bookings Rise In Spite Of Brutal Winter

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It’s been a rough winter for the Northeast, as it always seems to be.

But one major American city has seen winter bookings at major hotel chains actually increase, year-over-year, despite approaching its record for snowfall during the season.

And it’s providing a model blueprint for other cities that deal with inclement weather year after year.

Boston, take a bow. TravelClick, which provides real data based on actual bookings at major hotel chains, reports that total occupancy (up 5.2 percent), group bookings (up 10.7 percent) and transient bookings (up 3.5 percent) at major hotel chains are all up in Boston for the period from Dec. 1, 2014 to March 1, 2015, compared to the same period last year.

But how could this be? How could a city approaching its record snowfall for the winter season (107.6 inches) actually be seeing strong numbers across the leisure, corporate and group segments, as measured by TravelClick?

Well, there are a few reasons, according to John Hach, senior vice president of global product management at TravelClick, Inc.

For one, Boston already had a lot of advance reservations going into the first quarter of 2015, so many bookings were made before the flurry of snow even hit.

But it’s not like travelers didn’t know the winter would be rough in the Northeast this year. If you were prepared for sunshine and roses in Boston this winter, you probably haven’t been paying much attention the last few years.

Rather, it’s why Boston has seen so much booking activity before and during a typically blustery Northeastern season—while other nearby cities have naturally struggled a bit—that has surrounding destinations taking notice.

“Boston’s been a shining exception,” Hach said. “Boston is a shining star in that it’s uniquely positioned. Principally, the nature of the industry—financial institutions, universities, the e-commerce environment (and businesses)—in Boston really helps counteract inclement weather. It’s one of these vibrant American cities that has a really nice portfolio in business and it really does help, so to speak, weather the storm.”

So, surely, advance business and group bookings and an environment that caters to the meetings and conventions segment have contributed to Boston outshining other nearby cities. 

But that’s only part of the equation, Hach said. Boston is uniquely (or, perhaps to some, unfortunately) positioned in a geographic area that gets regularly hit with nor’easters, more so than most cities in the Northeast and beyond. In that sense, Bostonians are more prepared than others to deal with bad weather when it inevitably rears its head. They simply adjust and continue on with their scheduled meeting later when the weather settles. Of course, it takes some grit to push through the storms.

“Unfortunately for Boston, everyone now knows what a nor’easter is,” Hach said. “So, your exposure to those nor’easters is really profound. Boston, in particular, has shown us it’s resilient and it’s actually been very proactive in managing inclement weather. The numbers speak for themselves: When you start to look at the minimal impact it’s had, it really is an impressive characteristic that is unique to the Boston market.

“Boston has a lot of practice with this and that practice actually helps the economy stay strong through very harsh bouts of inclement weather.”

But it’s one thing for Bostonians to be ready to do business right after persevering through major storms. Boston does need some help from airlines to actually get passengers to the city relatively close to the scheduled flight time and date. 

Airlines’ ability to forecast oncoming weather better, as well as the development of travel technology, has been pivotal in getting travelers to Boston and other weather-heavy destinations in the same month or quarter.

“Travelers now have much more accurate and up-to-the-minute information on flight delays and cancellations and the ability to rebook a trip has never been easier,” Hach said. “Where the airlines particularly have gotten very strong is in the ability to foresee a weather event coming and actually make changes into the advanced bookings. There have been significant advancements in technology, particularly in mobile, that has allowed the traveler to change plans in transit, as opposed to going back home and completely rebooking.”

The improvement in the overall economy since the economic recession also plays a part in more bookings. Hoteliers are more confident to raise average daily rate (ADR), which in turn raises revenue per available room (RevPAR).

So, what can be learned from Boston’s success amid heavy snowfall?

“Really, it comes down to working heavily through the local visitor and convention bureau and making sure that there’s a very strong book of business forward for meetings and conventions” Hach said.

“One of the best improvements that we saw in the last 12-18 months was in the group component, and Boston is very much a leader in that pack.”

Hach said major cities that experience inclement weather, such as Chicago and Atlanta (particularly after the major ice storm last winter), are beginning to follow suit.

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