Too many rooms, too few people?

Published 10:03 pm Friday, August 17, 2007

NATCHEZ — Four new hotels will soon add roughly 300 rooms to Natchez, but some in the hotel business are unsure how it will affect the market.

Comfort Inn Manager Eric Patel said his hotel stays pretty full during the summer, but that’s because, with 50 rooms, it is small. He said he’d wait and see how the new hotels affected business.

“Natchez needs some rooms, but not a lot of rooms,” Patel said. “I think the big motel rooms are going to hurt, definitely. We’re doing good now, but you never know after the new rooms come.”

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Days Inn General Manager Tammy Gossett said her clientele looked for a different market than the hotels under construction.

“We are more family and blue-collar worker oriented and loyalty-based,” Gossett said. “We run at about 80 percent occupancy, and I don’t anticipate any type of decrease in my business.”

Gossett said she is not sure the new hotels will be able to keep full.

“Unless there’s a big influx of people, I wonder what will fill up those hotels on nights when there’s not a convention in town,” she said.

The Miss-Lou currently has roughly 1,000 hotel rooms, spanning the spectrum of markets.

Only 270 of the 1,000 rooms are close to the Natchez Convention Center, Natchez Tourism Director Walter Tipton said.

So, the Country Inn and Suites, Hampton Inn and Best Western will be welcome additions, he said.

“We definitely need the rooms,” Tipton said. “We need them to be competitive with other convention areas like the Gulf Coast, Philadelphia and Tunica.”

Tipton said he wasn’t worried. When conferences aren’t in town, there will still be plenty of people to fill the rooms, Tipton said. With projects like the private prison, Rentech and others to be constructed, visiting workers will need places to stay.

“They will stay in all of the outward hotels, but that will displace people who have been coming to those,” Tipton said. “That will eventually push folks into the more expensive properties.”

But filling all the rooms in Natchez and Vidalia will take cooperation, Tipton, Ruether and Isle of Capri Manager Jack Sours said.

“I really think it depends on what the companies do as far as advertising,” Sours said. “If they expect to fill up with the current volumes, it’s going to be splitting the pie between more people.

“If they can draw more people into the community with new hotel rooms, there will be more for people to share. We have to work together.”

Some in the hospitality business hope those rooms will bring additional customers, too.

Natchez is bringing in more conventions with a larger attendance, and those visitors need places to stay, Tipton said. Some conferences won’t even consider Natchez because there aren’t enough rooms in the area, he said.

Country Inn and Suites is still looking at opening in late March, and the insides are beginning to look like a hotel, developer Warren Ruether said.

“We’ve got bathtubs, air conditioners and sheetrock going in,” Ruether said. “All the windows are in now, and we’re getting electricity next week.”

On the hill where the old Ramada used to sit, the Emerald Star hotel is on its way, as well, marketing director Baxter Lee said.

The Emerald Star hotel will replace the Ramada’s 160 rooms with 124.

Some sections are being demolished and are waiting to be rebuilt.

“There is some site preparation, basically dirt work, that has to be done prior to actual construction beginning,” Lee said. “Not a lot of people can see when we’re hauling up dump trucks of dirt to get the lots leveled, but that’s what’s going on right now.”