Making space for the weary

New hotel competes for convention and tourist traffic

Posted: Tuesday, February 15, 2000

A new hotel near the airport will offer extra amenities for business travelers and ample room for families, according to the developer.

The 94-room GuestHouse International Inn & Suites, now under construction at the intersection of Shell Simmons and Yandukin drives, will open May 27 to accommodate visitors for Celebrate 2000 activities, said Carol C. Gilliam, company vice president in Anchorage.

The new hotel, and the concurrent 44-room expansion of the Frontier Suites nearby, are good news for Juneau's visitor industry, despite low annual occupancy rates, said John Mazor, president of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau.

``It gives us, as a bureau, additional tools when selling Juneau as a visitor destination,'' Mazor said. ``Any time you have a new property coming into a community, it creates some excitement.''

With new properties in play, the JCVB can bid for larger conventions and offer more variety to potential visitors, he said.

And while annual occupancy rates don't reflect it, rooms can be scarce in the summer. Three large conventions in June, including the National Association of American Indians, will use up a lot of room capacity in Juneau, Mazor said.


Hotel occupancy for 1999 was only 60 percent, according to a JCVB estimate, only a slight rebound from 58 percent in 1998, which tied with 1993 for worst year of the decade.

However, the cost of rooms has been increasing recently, which means revenue probably has remained level, Mazor said.

And new construction indicates optimism about Juneau's future as a destination for independent travelers and business conventions, he said, adding that occupancy since Thanksgiving has been up 4 to 5 percent over a year earlier.

Mazor said he's not sure if existing hotels will lose significant business. ``Time is only going to tell, but I think we are expanding the pie.''

``You always take a little bit of other people's market share,'' said Gilliam, the hotel company vice president. ``But on the other hand, competition usually makes people grow stronger and better. . . . I don't think anyone's going to go down at all.''

The GuestHouse is not aiming specifically at the summer tourism season, she said. ``We will definitely take tourists. But we want to be a year-round property.''

For business travelers, the GuestHouse is emphasizing amenities such as a fax machine, voice mail, data ports and kitchen appliances in every room, as well as a 1,200-square-foot conference room and a breakout suite for small meetings.

For families, the hotel offers two suites with private rooms for children, with bunk beds, a separate television set and a Nintendo play-station. Gilliam hopes to attract families coming in for shopping or school events from other panhandle communities.

The seasonal variation in room rates is dramatic. For example, a two-room executive suite will go for $179 a night this summer, but is scheduled to be reduced to $79 in the off-season.

``That's not uncommon when you look at summer destination communities,'' Mazor said.

The parent company of the GuestHouse, Western Steel of Tukwilla, Wash., previously was in a partnership that developed two hotels in Anchorage, the Clarion Suites and the Hawthorne Suites, in 1998-99, said Western Steel CEO George Swift. Both properties have since been sold, he said.

The 15-year-old company was started as a steel enterprise in Anchorage, but branched into hotel development and operation in 1991, and now runs 10 hotels in five western states, Swift said. A GuestHouse is scheduled to open in Valdez in April.

``Our management philosophy is different than most management companies,'' Swift said from Washington. ``We tend to develop our hotels for more of an appeal to the guest. We're not a budget inn developer and owner.''

Swift said proximity to the airport is a strong advantage for the new Juneau hotel. But he said he recognizes the cyclical nature of the industry.

``We're in it for the long haul,'' he said. ``There's good times and there's bad times. There's always weakness the first year.''

On Friday, roofing was scheduled to begin on the GuestHouse.

Meanwhile, extensive environmental mitigation was still under way in nearby wetlands, said Western Steel consultant Dave Hanna of Juneau. The company is restoring coho habitat, putting in a natural sediment filtering system and developing walking paths and viewing areas from which guests can see ducks, Hanna said.

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