Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Spring completion of $7 million construction of 68-room Fairfield Inn & Suites

Article Last Updated: Saturday, Oct 01, 2005 - 09:41:10 pm PDT

Hampton Inn & Suites general manager Barbara Glover stands in front of her hotel, one of 17 currently in Fairfield. (Mike McCoy/Daily Republic)

Room for competition?

By Christine Cubé

- Fairfield Inn & Suites owner Sam Patel has a plan.

As the $7 million construction of the hotel on Pittman Road nears its spring completion, Patel knows his 68-room Fairfield Inn & Suites is among several hotels under construction or scheduled to open in upcoming years.

Many hotels will be concentrated around the Suisun Valley/Green Valley roads exits in Cordelia.

Patel's plan: More and better hotel amenities. He's talking a pool, 32-inch televisions and wireless Internet access throughout the hotel. Every room also will come equipped with a wet bar and two hard-wired dataports.

Patel expects to directly compete with the hotels already there, namely the Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn & Suites, Days Inn and Best Western. He also expects formidable competition when the planned 85-room Homewood Suites and 82-room Staybridge Suites are finished. Developers are expected to break ground for those properties sometime this year.

But Patel admits he's not crazy about the growing supply.

"We've got a lot of hotel rooms and not enough demand," said Patel, part-owner of the hotel. "We have to just bite the bullet and move forward and hopefully we can overcome the other competitors by putting in extra amenities."

Room at the inn

Fairfield has 17 hotels and more are coming.

Two properties are under construction and four are on the drawing boards, according to New Hampshire-based Lodging Econometrics. The four in planning are Homewood Suites, Staybridge Suites, a La Quinta Inn & Suites and Super 8.

What compounds the problem is the huge chunk of hotel business that's about to go away: Around December, Travis Air Force Base plans to open its own 350-room inn on base. And even if the base continued to send out business to hotels, the cost for military and government contractor guests just got cheaper due to a $24 drop in the federal per diem, a special hotel rate set by the U.S. General Services Administration. Down from $104 to $80, the rate changed Oct. 1 and will be in effect for a year.

All of this makes the Fairfield hotel community nervous.

"It's exploding," said Barbara Glover, general manager of the 57-room Hampton Inn in Cordelia. "Everybody is hoping the hotel association can have a positive impact but that alone isn't going to save us all. Pricing is going to be a huge concern. We have to be better than the Joneses not just keep up with the Joneses."

Base changes

The new West Wind Inn will open around December or early January at Travis Air Force Base.

They're not calling it a hotel.

In fact, officials there said their intent to have "living quarters" isn't to put Fairfield hotels out of business. The new 350 rooms at the base - which will be combined with other accommodations already there - will allow military and government officials to readily conduct business because their rooms will be close to work.

But they admit there also will be a cost savings. That's because money that would normally go into local hotels in the form of the federal per diem rate won't be as high.

In the end, it justifies the total cost for the new living quarters on base, which come at a price of $40 million.

For that kind of money in many large metropolitan cities, you'd be staring at a four-star, luxury hotel, replete with plenty of marble.

But there will be no marble at Travis.

That figure includes the cost for the demolition of older living quarters and the price to put a bathroom in every room, a departure from the base's shared bathrooms. It also includes new furniture, Internet access in every room and a coffee shop in the inn.

Despite these upgrades, Travis officials said they're still going to need hotels to house people when its total 570 base rooms are full.

"We're very appreciative of the local support from our hotel community," said Capt. Lindsay Logsdon, chief of public affairs for the base. "When we don't have the room, we go to them. Travis is the gateway to the Pacific. There are still going to be times when Travis doesn't have enough rooms."

The silver lining

The Fairfield Hotel Association Inc., led by Executive Director Candy Pierce, has been working to put Fairfield into the itineraries of travel companies, tour bus groups and bus associations. The group also is working to secure California Welcome Center designation for a new center to be located near the Auto Mall.

It's a plan that's been in process for a few years now, when local hotels and tourism officials realized something had to be done to attract more visitors to town.

Kevin Johnson, general manager of the 150-room Hilton Garden Inn Fairfield, has been on the forefront of the tourism effort here.

"The Cordelia market is getting super concentrated with limited-service properties," he said. "(Hotels are going to be) fighting for a rate to continue to improve or maintain a facility."

Limited-service hotels range from economy or budget to mid-scale hotels that typically do not receive food and beverage revenue.

Hotel expert Bruce Ford, senior vice president of sales for Lodging Econometrics, said Fairfield hotels have a legitimate concern with the growing supply and not-so-growing demand.

"It's natural," Ford said. "Every hotel owner would be worried about competition that would eat into their demand. The key is to stay renovated and stay on top of group business."

No one is blaming the base.

But as new properties come on board, hoteliers are most concerned about a dilution in business.

"The hotel association truly is an organization of all the hotels," said Anand Patel, general manager and partner with the Holiday Inn Express Fairfield/Napa Valley. "We try and obviously look at every hotel and see how different efforts will impact every hotel for the better."

Reach Christine Cubé at 427-6934 or ccube@dailyrepublic.net.

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