The Washington Times-Herald

September 17, 2013

End of big construction projects hits hospitality

By Mike Grant
Times Herald

---- — As the dust begins to settle from a couple of major construction projects, the hotel and motel business in Daviess County is coming back to reality.

During the last couple of years there’s barely been room at any of the inns as workers from the Duke Energy Power Plant and I-69 construction project moved into the area. Now those workers have moved on and the hospitality people are noticing the difference.

“We’re not as busy and our revenue has dropped,” said Lori Hinkle, general manager for Holiday Inn Express. “The big change is on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. When the construction was going we were normally sold out on those days.”

Since the construction shut down and moved on occupancy at the Holiday Inn Express has dropped about 10 percent. The situation though may be worse around the county. “We have seen our revenue from the Innkeeper’s Tax fall from $224,000 to $188,000,” said Daviess County Visitor’s Bureau Director Samantha Bobbitt. “We were expecting that to happen with the big construction projects ending. Our budget for next year is back to 2007 levels.”

The I-69 and Duke construction projects propped up the hotel business locally while many other hospitality operators around the country struggled through the recession. “We would go to regional meetings where there were a lot of sad faces and we would tell them our occupancy rate was staying above 80 percent,” said Hinkle.

Now the challenge in Daviess County is to build attractions and get people into town again. Part of the fall-off has been softened by a major project planned by IPL in Petersburg. “It is picking back up some,” said Hinkle.

Officials say the festival business this fall has also helped. “We had record crowds for the Turkey Trot and White River Valley Antique Show earlier this month,” said Bobbitt. “The car show also brought in a number of people.”

“September is always a strong month for us,” added Hinkle. “We have the Amish Horse Sale coming up and we’ve been sold out for months.”

People in the hospitality business locally are also working to take greater advantage of the new interstate. “We believe when the construction is done on I-69 there will be a potential to attract more visitors,” said Bobbitt.

The Visitor’s Bureau is working closely with Radius Indiana and the State Department of Tourism to come up with plans for tourism development. The state is doing a multi-county assessment and is due to release its report in October. “We are anxious to see how we fare and what direction we might need to go in the future,” said Bobbitt.

The Visitor’s Bureau is also keeping an eye on development along the interstate exits in Daviess County. “We hope that once things begin to build near the interstate that we’ll be able to develop some kind of presence there so that we can expose visitors to what we have to offer,” said Bobbitt.

The new higway may already be producing an impact on the local travel business. “We have seen our walk-in customers grow,” said Hinkle. “I think that with a little more development on the east side there could be even more people staying here. There is also a lot of potential for attracting visitors for the Amish country.”

The dip in the hospitality business appears to have bottomed out. “It just makes us work harder,” said Hinkle. “We just keep trying to improve the community and see what we can do to bring in more people.”