The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

January 3, 2014

Feasibility study reveals what tourism officials must do to attract more to Clinton

By Katie Dahlstrom Herald Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — After rebounding from the loss of Clinton’s busiest hotel, Clinton tourism officials know who is staying in the city’s hotels and who they need to spend more time attracting.

A feasibility study performed this summer by an independent consultant showed the city has all the hotels it needs to serve travelers that frequent Clinton, a majority of whom are business customers. The study also gave the Clinton Convention and Visitors Bureau a directive to try and tap into the leisure travelers that visit Clinton much less.

“We have such a vast variety of visitors and guests, it’s important that we cater to their different needs. Without hotels, we wouldn’t have much tourism. Without tourism, we don’t capture dollars from outside our community,” CVB Director Carrie Donaire said. “It is important to spend locally to stimulate the Clinton area economy, but it is also important to attract money from outside our community to create jobs here in the tourism sector.”

Some of the money generated by local hotels goes into city coffers while the remainder funds Vision Iowa projects and the CVB. The city receives the 7 percent tax on hotel and motel stays, which is the third highest revenue source to the city’s general fund. Of the money generated, the CVB receives 53.5 percent. The remaining 47.5 percent is broken down so 28.5 percent goes toward Vision Iowa projects and 18 percent actually makes it to the city’s general fund.

When Ashford University purchased the Best Western Frontier Inn and converted it to dorms in 2010, it eliminated more than 100 rooms and banquet space. The Frontier Inn was the primary meeting community meeting space during its tenure, the feasibility study noted.

In turn, the hotel/motel tax revenue that year dropped by nearly $100,000, from around $350,000 to $250,000.

“Our whole goal should be not to give those dollars to the Quad-Cities or other communities” City Administrator Jessica Kinser said. “We should have the hotels available here.”

Since 2010, the tax has gradually grown and is expected to reach a little less than $350,000 this year. The opening of the 60-room Wild Rose Resort in 2008 and the 76-room Hampton Inn in 2012 replaced the rooms lost with the conversion of the Frontier Inn.

“We bounced back. I think a significant contribution was the Hampton Inn that has a fair number of rooms and the quality from the Frontier,” said Donaire, adding that places such as Wild Rose, Rastrelli’s and Vista Grande offer the banquet facilities the former hotel had.

The evidence of Clinton’s rebounding hotel market is in the numbers. Hotel occupancy during the summer of 2013 increased by an average of 13 percent per month when compared to the same months (May, June and July) in 2012.

“Part of this is due to the turnaround at LyondellBassell, though it’s a trend we can also attribute to new business developments such as the new Data Dimensions facility and other area businesses who bring in regular weekday traffic,” Donaire said.

The biggest leisure draws to the area this year included the Iowa Harley Owners Group rally, which brought in more than 300 motorcycle riders coming to Clinton. The Nina and the Pinta visits during Father’s Day weekend was another big draw.

Mainstays such as the Eco Center at Rock Creek Marina and the Clinton marina also attracted visitors, though not at an optimal rate.

In addition to revealing Clinton had enough hotels, the study showed Clinton has a lower than ideal occupancy overall.

However, the city has a good amount of weekday, corporate hotel activity.

“I think we’re pleasantly surprised to know we rely on the corporate travelers. Now we can focus on the weekend and leisure travelers,” Donaire said. “We also have confidence knowing we have successful business activity, but room to grow.”

The feasibility study included a report from Smith Travel Research, a company that tracks supply and demand data for the hotel industry across the United States. The STR report measured the top four hotels in Clinton, including the Hampton Inn.

Eric Wahrman, general manager of the Hampton Inn, said 2013 was a stellar year for the hotel. After its first full year open, the hotel is among the top 5 percent of the hotels in the 1,900 hotel chain.

“Quarterly numbers we’re up about 130 percent over last year. So we really are starting to pick up,” Wahrman said.

As the study indicated, while the hotel bustles during the week, weekends are noticeably quieter.

“We’re more of a business hotel. So, people that are coming to visit ADM and all the big corporations in town, contractors come through all the time and they come in and are going to be staying with us,” Wahrman said. “We’re a majority full Monday through Thursday. It’s the weekend is actually normally our slow time.”

With the feasibility study results in hand, Donaire plans to bolster marketing efforts in the Chicago suburbs with more advertising in newspapers and adding billboards.

“It gives us a great plan,” she said.