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AUSTIN-Hotel occupancy in Austin took a big step down in September from September 2000, dropping to 56.6% from 74.4%. Some of that can be blamed on the travel slowdown following the Sept. 11 attacks, but not all of it.

“The contrast is stark,” says John Keeling of Houston-based PKF Consultants, which compiled the figures, “because you’re comparing an exceptional year with an exceptionally bad year.” Putting the comparison in context, Keeling says, 2000 was an especially good year because “it was a legislative year and the governor was running for president and a lot of folks were coming to Austin for that reason.” It’s practically an apples-to-oranges comparison that was further skewed by this September’s shutdown of the Austin Convention Center for renovations.

The average room rate actually rose to $104.29 last month from $97.47 in 2000, according to PKF. The crucial RevPAR figure, however, tumbled to $55.17 from $72.62. “That’s a 23.9% drop,” Keeling says. “And part of that is because of the increased inventory (of hotel rooms).”

In San Antonio, September occupancy dropped to 54.9% from 60.3% in September 2000. The average room rate was almost flat, $84.12 in 2001 compared to $84.04 in 2000. RevPAR was off 9.6% to $46.82 from $50.68.

Comparing year-to-date numbers, Keeling says Austin’s occupancy was running about 8 points down from last year. That means, he says, the Sept. 11 aftermath sliced another 8 points off the occupancy rate.

In San Antonio, occupancy was flat from year to year before the drop in September. “I’d say that about 5 points of that 5.4 drop were from the impact (of the attacks),” Keeling says.

A new public service advertising campaign may help put more travelers, specifically Texans, into the state’s hotels. The Texas Department of Economic Development this week unveiled its “Rediscover” campaign, which encourages Texans to vacation within Lone Star borders. “We hope these PSAs will inspire people who recently canceled plans to travel outside of the state to reconsider traveling locally and rediscover Texas,” David Teel, the department’s director of tourism said in a prepared statement. Texas actor Rip Torn provides the voice-overs for the commercials.

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