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ORLANDO-The 115,000-room hospitality market in metro Orlando is holding up and not caving in despite a tourist slowdown and a gloomy economy, according to new July statistics from Hendersonville, TN-based Smith Travel Research.

Occupancy in the tourist submarkets of International Drive, East and West Kissimmee and Lake Buena Vista (Walt Disney World) are down from July 2000 but still in the mid-70% range, or about 10 points higher than the national average of 63.7% cited by the American hotel & Lodging Association.

Average daily room rates are down in the submarkets of North Orlando, East and West Kissimmee and Lake Buena Vista but up in the other four monitored markets.

“The market is holding generally well in spite of negative domestic and international economic news,” Robin L. Webb, a hospitality industry consultant for 30 years and vice president/managing broker, Arvida Realty Services Commercial Division, Winter Park, FL, tells GlobeSt.com.

“On the broader scale, the metro Orlando market has been able to score positive average rate gains every year since 1995 and only dramatic occupancy declines should alter that trend,” Webb says.

He projects the Orlando market will close the year at about five percentage points above the national lodging industry average.

Smith Travel Research numbers show Central Florida hotels aggregately posted a July occupancy of 73.5%, down 7.3% from 79.3% at this time last year. The daily room rate of $76.57 was 4.7% off from $80.35 in July 2000.

Occupancy was down in all seven submarkets but key tourist-oriented areas such as Lake Buena Vista, International Drive and East and West Kissimmee were still scoring above 70% occupancy.

Central Orlando, 56.8%, down 11.3% from 64%; Lake Buena Vista had 77.4%, down 10.2% from 86.2% a year ago; South Orlando, 62%, down 8.1% from 67.5%; North Orlando, 58.8%, down 8% from 63.9%; International Drive, 77%, down 4.7% from 80.8%; East Kissimmee, 78.9%, down 3.4% from 81.7%; and West Kissimmee, 73.5%, down 8% from 79.9%.

Average daily room rates were down in only four of the seven monitored markets. Lake Buena Vista’s average rate of $97.67 was down 8.4% from $100.62 last year at this time. East Kissimmee sold rooms for $52.44, down 8.1% from $57.04; West Kissimmee, $58.85, down 4.9% from $61.89; and North Orlando, $63.21, down 1.4% from $64.08.

In the plus column were Central Orlando, $63.98, up 1.5% from $63.02; International Drive, $80.32, up 1.1% from $79.41; and South Orlando, $60.98, up 0.3% from $60.81.

“In a time of only marginally positive consumer confidence, the resort (tourist) numbers, while not exciting, are also not very far off the prior year,” Webb tells Globest.com. “At a 77% occupancy, July is only off 2% year over year. Kissimmee East is actually up seven points; and Lake Buena Vista does show a concerning decline of 10%.”

Despite the lackluster numbers, Webb tells GlobeSt.com “it is interesting to note that the most budget-driven destination of Kissimmee East actually climbed in occupancy in an overall down market–quite a testament to the consumer’s ability to price shop in declining economic times.”

On other submarkets, the consultant says the North Orlando and Seminole County submarkets, “with its reliance on corporate business, appear to be the most exposed to a decline.”

Webb adds, “lower pricing is always a competitive strategy. However, with newer, more expensive product, there is a limit to how aggressive the operator can be and still meet debt service.”

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