Vacancies up, room rates down for Oil Patch hotels
DICKINSON, N.D. — The price of a hotel room in western North Dakota has dropped by as much as 30 percent in the past year as hotels see fewer oil workers.
Average hotel prices in Dickinson, Williston and Minot ranged from $70 to $85 this June. Most recent occupancy rates were 43 to 55 percent, which is up compared to last winter but far below what those cities saw during the height of the Bakken oil boom.
Tourism officials are working to get the word out that unlike a few years ago, cities in and around the Oil Patch have available hotel rooms at affordable prices.
"Some people still believe there's no availability and they're $300 a night," said Terri Thiel, executive director of the Dickinson Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Things have really, really changed."
The average Dickinson hotel room cost $77 a night in June, down about $30 from a year ago when the average price was $108, Thiel said.
"You're seeing quite a drop," Thiel said.
Hotel occupancy in Dickinson was 55.5 percent in June, slightly higher than a year ago, which Thiel said is partly due to an increase in visitation at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
Williston also has seen a drop in hotel prices of nearly 30 percent in the past year. The average daily rate for a Williston hotel room was $85 in June, compared to $117 a year earlier, said Amy Krueger, executive director of the Williston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"With the increased market, it has become more reasonable for travelers," Krueger said.
Many hotels in the Bakken at one time served as crew quarters for temporary workers, driving prices up and making it difficult for leisure travelers to find rooms. Occupancy rates dropped significantly as new hotels and housing opened up, the price of oil dropped and many workers were laid off.
Williston's hotel occupancy rate was 43 percent in June and about 30 percent for 2016 so far, Krueger said.
While the hotels have seen a drop in workforce housing, weekend bookings are up this summer, a signal that more tourists are visiting the area, Krueger said.
Visits to Fort Union National Historic Trading Post are up this summer and Williston expects a strong month for hotels in August when the city hosts the Babe Ruth World Series, Krueger said.
In Minot, an average hotel room cost $70 in June, down from $90 a year earlier, and the latest occupancy rate was 48 percent, according to Visit Minot.
The figures are a stark contrast to 2012, when oil drilling was at a high in North Dakota and Minot was recovering from the 2011 flood. That year, Minot ended the year with average hotel occupancy of 86 percent and average hotel room price of $130.
Phyllis Burckhard, executive director of Visit Minot, said she'd like to see occupancy rates get back to at least 70 percent.
Her organization is using social media to spread the word that Minot has available hotel rooms during major events such as the North Dakota State Fair, which runs through July 30, and the annual Norsk Hostfest in the fall.
The strength of the Canadian dollar also plays a big role for Minot hotel business, Burckhard said, and hotels are trying to offer deals to entice more Canadian travelers.
Williston also has started doing more promotion to Canada, including advertisements that Williston is only 180 kilometers away, Krueger said.
"We have changed up some efforts to try to reach different people," Krueger said.
Visitors to Dickinson are pleased with the increase in hotel options that resulted from the oil boom expansion, Thiel said.
"We've gotten some very nice new properties out of it," Thiel said. "We've gotten choices that people are happy for."