CHARLESTON, S.C. – Business is recovering nicely for historic hotels in the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee as the economy improves following the Great Recession, industry representatives said Thursday.
"We're having a banner year. The best year ever," said Lynn Lesene, one of the operators of The Wentworth Mansion that hosted representatives of eight members of Historic Hotels of America.
"In leisure business we had some drop off but we got that back pretty quickly," said Bud St. Pierre, the marketing director of The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort on St. Simons Island, Ga. He said, however, group business continues to lag because Georgia state government is not spending as much on training sessions and other coastal meetings.
Chris Welch, the operator of The Smith House in Dahlonega, Ga., said his inn never really felt the recession.
"Our lodging numbers are up 30 percent since 2008," he said, adding that the average daily rate has increased every year and, unlike some other hotels, it did not have to be reduced during the downturn.
Welch noted much of the inn's business involves weddings and people are always going to get married.
The hotel association was formed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation more than 20 years ago. To become members, hotels must be at least 50 years old, be recognized as having historical significance and listed on or be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
The group started in 1989 with 32 members. It now has more than 240.
Lesene said dealing with the downturn made her operation more directed.
"We found competition we didn't have before. We had to find a way to be leaner internally and externally," she said. One of the things her company, Charming Inns, did was to combine two of its Charleston inns that were in the same building. It now operates four inns and a restaurant.
Also helping is that, last month, The Wentworth Mansion was named the top small city hotel and the 12th best hotel in the world by Travel + Leisure Magazine.
St. Pierre said his resort improved its marketing operations as a result of the recession.
Association members agreed there is a lot of interest in historic inns at a time when the same hotels and motels are seen in towns across the nation.
"We have people every single day when you do the guest satisfaction survey they specifically found us because they wanted a unique property," said Janet Kurtz, the marketing director for The Hermitage Hotel in Nashville. "They wanted a very historic setting that really told the story of the city they were in."
"The most common comment we get is that people travel through the week on business and on the weekend they want to come for something unique," Welch added.