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Dickinson lodging freeing up: Hotel occupancy rates drop noticeably from last summer as housing improves

Press Photo by Katherine Grandstrand Kyle Dukart checks Kenny Franco of Houston into the Hampton Inn and Suites on Monday afternoon in Dickinson. Franco was in town on business with Mustang Engineering and staying until his flight left on Thursday.

Dickinson's hotels and motels are becoming less responsible for housing oil field workers as more extended-stay lodging, like crew camps and extended-stay hotels, as well as permanent housing are created in the area.

From two years ago, the hotel occupancy rate is down, said Terri Thiel, executive director of the Dickinson Area Convention and Visitors' Bureau. In July it sat at 72 percent. It has been above 90 percent the last few years.

"That's leaving more rooms for us to work with for leisure travel or meetings and businesses that are coming into town," Thiel said. "It's probably a good thing so we can continue to attract that long-term business back again repeatedly."

The occupancy rate does include extended-stay hotels that feature kitchenettes and other amenities similar to a studio apartment, Thiel said.

"If one person stays in the same room for over 30 days -- whether it would be a regular hotel or an extended stay -- then the taxes are not collected after that," Thiel said. "They're marketing towards these longer-term stays for the crews or on the business end of that project."

The clientele at the Holiday Inn Express in Dickinson has changed over the last few years through the boom, General Manager Kim Froehlich said.

She first noticed crews coming to stay in 2007, but the economy crashing and the price of oil dropping dramatically in 2008 brought that to a halt, until things started picking up again in 2009.

That's when the hotel started seeing more crews booking rooms, filling up its 56 rooms, Froehlich said.

"We took reservations as we could," Froehlich said of the boom time. "It's a good thing. We stayed really, really busy."

Now the hotel is seeing more corporate customers during the week, freeing up rooms on the weekend for travelers.

"On the weekends, yes. On a weekday, not as easy," Froehlich said. "We've had some nights here in the past month where every hotel has been full."

The occupancy rate was extraordinarily high over the last two years, causing a rise in the price per night at hotels in Dickinson, Thiel said.

"I think as we come into the fall, our traditional markets of our hunters and our other leisurely late fall travelers, you'll probably see some of those start to come down again," Thiel said.

The oil boom also brought a hotel boom, causing the Dickinson City Commission to question if there would be too many hotels within city limits last year. In Dickinson, about 10 new hotels have been built with others renovated since the beginning of the boom.

"I've always cautioned that we have to take a look at the future and where are you looking for your market and what's going to happen," Thiel said. "At some point -- and I think that's occurring right now"

The city is seeing worker contracts at hotels level off because companies and their workers are finding other forms of housing, Thiel said.

The assistant general manager of the Hampton Inn and Suites said the hotel has seen a changing clientele since it opened last summer.

"The individuals who are staying with us has changed quite a bit," Kathryn Jones-Porter said. "When we were first getting started last summer, we had a lot of people who were here that were very extended stay -- three, six, nine months."

The clientele is now more business travelers and vacationers visiting Medora, Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Enchanted Highway, Jones-Porter said.

The Hilton-owned property is also seeing busier weekdays, with lighter weekends, Jones-Porter said.

"We are seeing sold-out nights in the beginning and middle of the week and it lightens up a little bit on the weekend," Jones-Porter said. "Otherwise we're doing really, really well."

There's also an increase families, per the results of a survey Thiel gave to area hotels.

"We're at a better point right now for what we do in our office," Thiel said of her office.

Because work crews have found different housing options, Dickinson's hotels and the Convention and Visitor's Bureau can focus on bringing tournaments, trade shows and other events to Dickinson.

"If anybody is on a board or committee that hosts annual meetings, we want them to know that we can work with them to help get affordable room rates and that there is room available," Thiel said. "That's one of the things we want to get out to everybody -- to tell people that there are rooms available now."

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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