By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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PORT ANGELES — A mixed bag of tourism statistics was presented to a Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon audience this week.
The lodging industry nationwide — from January through October this year — has recovered from a 7 percent loss in revenue incurred in 2009, Paula Beck, director of sales and marketing for Aramark Parks and Destinations' Olympic Peninsula lodges, told the meeting audience Monday.
But Olympic National Park attendance is down 6 percent from January through October 2012 compared with the same period in 2011, she said.
Park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said Tuesday that weather “has been all over the map this year” and that there was no reason for concern.
“When weather is particularly wet or cloudy or colder than normal, it can go down,” she said.
“What it really indicates is, weather influences our visitation.”
Aramark, which owns Lake Quinault Lodge in Grays Harbor County, promotes the environment and the “texture of the natural experience,” she said.
“We still do feel it's vital to keep a presence for corporate meeting plans.”
Beck joined Joseph Mollerus, general manager of Red Lion Hotel in Port Angeles, and Tammy Oxentenko, director of sales for Olympic Lodge in Port Angeles, in a panel presentation on the lodging industry.
Industry growth on the North Olympic Peninsula is hampered by a lack of meeting space for group gatherings, an area where there's money to be made, Mollerus said.
Breaking down the numbers for the approximately 100 lunch-goers, individuals in meeting groups stay an average of 2.6 nights compared with individual guests, who stay an average of 1.4 nights, he said.
“One of our challenges is telling groups about our lack of meeting space,” he said.
“We don't have the break-out space for the groups,” he said.
“For us to try to go after group [business] is what really will raise the occupancy in this town.”
Mollerus said occupancy is 55 percent for all hotels annually in Port Angeles and 50.2 percent at Red Lion, which is up from last year but still falls “way short” of 2007 and 2009 totals.
The region has seen a 4 percent spike in the lodging business, mainly on the Interstate 5 corridor, Mollerus said.
“My feeling is we need to do something more to stimulate more groups coming here,” he said.
Mollerus said a convention or conference center “would be a big asset” to the community.
“It would give another dynamic to work with and bring larger associations to the area.
“We just need to get them out here to see how beautiful the place is,” Mollerus said.
“It would enable us to attract larger associations from the lodge to the park and be a benefit to Red Lion as well.
“It wouldn't be a burden.”
In addition, having anchor events, such as the North Olympic Discovery Marathon and Half Marathon on June 2, 2013, “are really an answer to where we can grow occupancy in this town,” Mollerus said.
He added that Red Lion is developing a “hyperlocal” website with Internet links and such information as where the best pizza is sold.
“This is more than an opportunity to promote Red Lion,” he said.
“That's a strategy we are looking to do here: continue to grow the lodging tax dollars to invest back in the community so we can grow tourism.”
Oxentenko said Olympic Lodge, which is owned by Western Inns, had record occupancy in October.
She said Olympic Lodge, too, does not have adequate meeting space.
“If it causes our competitor hotels also to be full, it would benefit us as well,” she said in a later interview.
Partnerships are vital in the lodging industry, Beck told the luncheon audience.
“Partnerships in the hospitality industry are what we can all do to raise the tide and float all boats, so to speak,” Beck said.
Beck said it's not likely anytime soon that Lake Crescent Lodge would open year-round.
“There are different expenses for keeping a facility in operation year-round,” she said.
“We'd all love for it to happen,” Beck added.
“To date, that hasn't been penciled out.”
Beck said she and Black Ball Ferry Line are working on how to “spread the word” about the North Olympic Peninsula on Vancouver Island.
Beck also said she and Diane Shostak, executive director of the Olympic Peninsula Visitors Bureau, are talking about bringing hoteliers from Vancouver Island to Port Angeles to show them what the area has to offer.
“Partnerships are going to light the way,” Beck said.
“The environment is the key,” she added.
“That's why people keep coming out.”
Down 33 percent
Compared with 2011, visitation to Olympic National Park was down 33 percent in March and 17 percent in a “really rainy” June, Maynes said in a separate interview.
But September was up 10 percent over 2011, when the weather “was wonderful,” she said.
That's typically for park visitation, said Maynes, who was not part of the Monday chamber program.
“When we have great weather and great weather is forecast, our visitation is up,” she said.
“When the weather is particularly wet or cloudy or colder than normal, it can go down.”
The program for Monday's luncheon included a presentation by the Clallam County Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots campaign.
For questions about Toys for Tots, phone 360-460-1031.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.