Busy June bolsters occupancy

Barry Bhakta, owner of the Rodeway Inn and Comfort Inn, has been a hotelier in Elko for 33 years and that translates into 33 busy months of June.

June is easily the biggest month for Elko hotel properties. The Elko Mining Expo and the Elko Motorcycle Jamboree draw more visitors than any other event and fill the town's 2,300 hotel rooms.

Delynn Jones, Elko Convention and Visitor's Authority comptroller, says the county room tax was down about 9 percent through the first 10 months of the fiscal year ending June 30, but Jones expects May and June to be good months for hotel and motel occupancy with the county's many special events.

"We had estimated about an 8 percent dip in room tax collection this year versus last year and we may even be less than that," Jones says. "We have been quite busy here in June, so we think June will trend back up again."

Jones says current occupancy tax totals are comparable to fiscal year 2005-2006. The county's biggest years for room night revenues were from 2006 to 2008.

But outside of June's two big events, Bhakta says business especially for downtown properties has been a little soft.

Bhakta says occupancy has dipped by 15 to 20 percent some months this year compared to year-earlier figures.

"The town does pretty good on the east side, but downtown properties are suffering a little bit," he says. "They don't have as many tourists, and they are older motels."

Bhakta says he's often lowered rates at the 27-room Roadway Inn in order to draw business, especially during slow mid-week nights. Business at the 51-room Comfort Inn, however, has stayed relatively strong.

"We had a good year last year, and this year is the same."

Bhakta is renovating the Comfort Inn, spending $35,000 on new mattresses for the property.

Dave Zornes, chief executive officer of Play Elko properties, which includes the Red Lion Inn, Gold County Inn, High Desert Inn and Thunderbird Motel, says June's special events filled his hotel properties, but advance bookings were slow and properties did not sell out until the weekend of both special events.

The Red Lion is the largest hotel property in Elko with 222 rooms. Play Elko manages 600 rooms total. Hotel and motel rates in Elko County, he says, have held up better than any other county in the state due to a heavy volume of commercial business, mainly from mining executives.

"June definitely is our peak month," Zornes says. "That is the one month of the year where we have more visitors than any other time.

"I think rates hold up in Elko better than any place in Nevada because of all the mining and businessmen. Our rates are holding up."

The Red Lion has lured its share of visitors through an extensive remodel that completely upgraded the property's 156 original rooms in 2006. The remaining rooms received new beds, granite countertops and flat screen televisions.

The Red Lion expanded when the property featured air service to bring in tourists, but once those flights were eliminated there was a slight excess in total rooms available city-wide, Zornes says.

Filling the 170-room High Desert Inn also has been challenging for Play Elko. Management has given deals and offered long-term stays to boost occupancy at Elko's second-largest hotel property.

Bhakta says he's considered offering the Roadway as a weekly rental property, similar to the majority of the small downtown motel properties, but so far he has resisted the conversion.

Brand recognition also has helped many Elko hoteliers, he adds.

"The bigger motels and franchises do OK," Bhakta says.

A heavy influx of construction workers building the Ruby Pipeline hasn't yet impacted occupancy at Bhakta's properties, but he expects an uptick in occupancy beginning in July. Bhakta says once buildout is complete for the Ruby Pipeline natural gas project, occupancy rates could potentially dip all across Elko.

But Keith Bantz, co-owner of Elko RV Park in Ryndon 11 miles east of Elko on Interstate 80, has picked up 17 full-time occupants due to the pipeline project. Elko RV Park has 65 month-to-month spaces, an additional 30 full-service overnight spaces, and 24 tent spaces.

The monthly rental sites are completely booked, Bantz says. Pipeline workers began booking sites in March and April and just started arriving as construction is expected to begin in earnest in a few weeks.

"We will see 38 percent more revenue for four to six months, and that is a tremendous boon to us," Bantz says.

Bantz says occupancy increased from 18 monthly occupants two years ago to 25 last year to 65 today mainly because of extensive remodeling to the sites, including new electrical and sewage lines and new management.

"Elko has been really good to us and we are having fun refurbishing the park," he says. "We have 20 spaces still to upgrade before we will rent them out."


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