As expected, the influx of Hurricane Laura evacuees and first responders boosted hotel occupancy in the Capital Region to more than 90% between Aug. 26, the day before the powerful hurricane made landfall, and Aug. 30.
The data, provided by Visit Baton Rouge from STR, confirms what many in the beleaguered hospitality sector had predicted as the storm was approaching the state’s coastline, and helped raise overall occupancy rates to 73.5% for the week of Aug. 23-Aug. 29.
For most of the summer, occupancy has been averaging slightly above 50%.
Executives say the unexpected boost in business has been going well and that the biggest challenge local hotels face is the inability to plan for the short and long terms.
“There is an uncertainty with most natural disasters as to how long the increase in occupancy will last,” says Crowne Plaza General Manager Scott Michelet, who also serves as president of the Baton Rouge Lodging Association. “Occupancy will stay pretty good for at least another week but we’re not sure how much beyond that. It’s a chess game every day.”
Restaurants also have seen an uptick in their business, though not one that is necessarily commensurate with the increase in hotel occupancy. That’s because many of the first responders and contractors staying in local hotels are leaving early each day to head to affected areas and don’t return until late at night.
“First responders do not have much opportunity to do anything while they’re here because they spend so much time on the road,” Michelet says.
Downtown Development District Executive Director Davis Rhorer, however, says anecdotally he’s heard from several downtown restaurants that have been packed to 50% capacity, the maximum allowed under the state’s phase two guidelines.
“We’ve seen a lot more people out on downtown streets,” he says. “The weekend was really crowded. It’s been nice.”