York County's hotel market is showing signs of growth for a third straight year, even as other parts of South Carolina are dealing with a slowdown.
Tourism officials credit the popularity of amateur sports tournaments held in Rock Hill, along with events at Winthrop University and business traffic from south Charlotte -- advantages York County enjoys over other places in the state.
Through July, the 2,400 hotel rooms in York County showed a 66 percent occupancy rate, three points ahead of last year and four points higher than the current statewide average.
Those numbers caught the attention of Marriott, which will open York County's first extended-stay hotel late next year at the Rock Hill Galleria. A 98-room Marriott TownPlace will become the first hotel in the county to rent rooms by the week and month.
Construction on the three-story building will start in February where the mall's old movie theater stood, said Warren Norman III, whose family owns the land. The movie theater was demolished earlier this year.
Need for newer brands
Industry watchers say York County has enough budget motels. What it needs, they say, are more higher-end options that tend to attract businessmen and families who don't mind paying more.
"We do have an aging hotel inventory," said Bennish Brown, director of the Rock Hill/York County Convention & Visitors Bureau. "A lot of our hotels have been online for a number of years. Sometimes a draw is simply knowing there are newer and modern properties."
Unlike at regular hotels, extended-stays include kitchens and sitting areas in each room. But maids don't make the beds every day, and breakfast isn't offered.
A well-known brand such as Marriott should do well in York County, said hotelier Dilip Patel, who owns the Microtel Inn & Suites on Riverview Road.
"They've got enough budget hotels," he said. "The higher-end hotels, like the Hiltons and the TownPlaces, may still work here."
Norman, whose family also holds majority ownership in the Hampton Inn next to the Galleria, said he expects the Marriott to attract businessmen visiting companies such as 3D Systems in nearby Waterford Business Park, or families coming for the girls' softball tournaments played at Cherry Park.
"The hotel market's good for our area right now," he said. "As we see business growth and growth out of Charlotte, we'll see more of a need for this."
Occupancy rates in South Carolina have dipped slightly this year, thanks in part to more rooms in Myrtle Beach. The latest figures from the state tourism department show an average occupancy of 62 percent statewide.
The Marriott will become the latest in a series of additions at the Galleria. The Normans are close to unveiling plans to turn 175 acres of adjoining wooded land into a shopping center that will eventually equal the size of Manchester Village.
As many as eight more anchor stores are envisioned over the next two to four years. Kohl's and Hobby Lobby opened in April as the first phase.
Avoiding a room crunch
Meanwhile, the hotel will help to alleviate a crunch that occurs when multiple events are held at the same time, local tourism officials say.
During one hectic weekend, the Rock Hill aquatics center hosted a regional swim tournament on the same days as a high school basketball tournament at Winthrop and a golf tournament in Tega Cay. Visitors were forced to travel north to Charlotte or south to Richburg to find hotel rooms -- depriving local restaurants and stores of thousands of dollars in potential revenue.
To avoid overbooking in the future, the CVB has asked the county's major destinations to work together to avoid scheduling big events on the same weekends. The agency has set up a master calendar to make communication easier.
"It's a good issue to have," said Robert Thomas, the CVB's sports marketing coordinator. "If nobody was coming, we wouldn't have to think about coordinating."