Editorial: Checking in on hotels

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An upscale, high-tech hotel will be turning heads in Worcester in 2017.

The 168-room, $200-plus-per-night addition to CitySquare, with its exciting modern design, will offer customers a saltwater pool, gleaming meeting spaces, underground parking and an elegant restaurant, all an elevator ride away.

And the $33.1 million facility, which will operate under Marriott International’s luxury AC Hotels brand, is one of three new hotels in the works — this one in the heart of downtown, another near Union Station in Washington Square, and a third in burgeoning Lincoln Square.

Overkill? No.

When these hotels are running, there will still be room for more rooms.While Worcester has been steadily lifting its profile as an attractive place to visit, the number of hotel rooms has been stuck at suboptimal levels for a while, industry watchers say.

The city has only 745 rooms in seven hotels, according to a recent Telegram & Gazette column. The total will rise to a projected 1,123 with the three new hotels.

That is certainly an improvement, but Worcester will remain well outpaced by Providence, with some 2,500 rooms. The city will also be bested by Hartford (1,200), Springfield (900, with 250 more planned) and even the Marlborough/Westborough corridor (1,500, with more on the way), according to figures from 2014 cited in the column.

As well, the majority of the 378 hotel rooms being added merely compensates for the 243 rooms lost when the Crowne Plaza at the upper end of Main Street went into receivership six years ago. The building has since been converted into dormitory space by MCPHS University.

What it comes down to is that — even with all this planning, hammering and wallpapering at three hotel sites in the city — the city will likely still be underserved in terms of hotel space.

Supporting that is that Worcester has a comparatively healthy occupancy rate, estimated at about 80 percent, compared with about 65 percent nationwide, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said during last month’s groundbreaking for the 118-room Homewood Suites by Hilton hotel.

That hotel is expected to open next year in Washington Square. The third hotel under construction is a Hampton Inn at 65 Prescott St. in Lincoln Square, near Gateway Park. It is expected to be ready this year.

Hotel-room availability and occupancy rates are dynamic statistics. On the one hand, they help tell the story of a city’s attractiveness to visitors. On the other hand, they help create that same attractiveness.

Hotels tie into the liveliness, variety and amenities of their location. A place with plenty of hotels, offering a range of costs and features, is more likely to become a place where demand for overnight lodging rises. Successful stays — whether for business, pleasure, stopover or a special family gathering such as Easter — can bring repeat business and word-of-mouth bookings.

Planners of conventions and large sporting events scrutinize the list of local hotels, as well as the meeting spaces they offer, when choosing a location. The longstanding dearth of hotel rooms in Worcester is, for example, the main reason the NCAA men’s basketball tournament hasn’t returned to the DCU Center for early-round March Madness play in more than a decade.

That doesn’t just disappoint college basketball fans.

Restaurants, shops, cabs drivers — of course, hotel operators — and others enjoy the uptick in business when the city scores a large event contract. Some of that cash goes to the city in tax revenue, too.

Meanwhile, the city takes on the polish of a more vibrant place, more interesting and more prone to future visits.

This is why — though many of us will never take a dip in the future downtown Marriott hotel’s fancy pool, drop our heads onto the down (we assume) pillows, or drink $50 wine in its 250-seat restaurant — we all share in the wealth and delight of its choosing us as hosts.

The same goes for all the city’s hotels, and we hope even more, including budget-friendly brands, will be wooed to Worcester.

Meanwhile, the sudden small building boom in hotels is a chance to note that planners and developers have been working creatively for years to position our city for the future. Hotel enterprises, costly and risky, are something of a leap of faith; having three checking in at once is a sure sign the business world believes in us.

All the more reason for area residents to get on board with that belief, and help push Worcester toward the cosmopolitan, comfortable, unique and full-service future that suits it.

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