Hotelier Sunny Desai knows the occupancy rate for Lancaster County lodging properties is down this year.
At the same time, he realizes that a spate of hotel openings and expansions is a big reason for that dip. And he understands that new rooms take time to fill.
Desai also grasps that for a given hotel, its specific address and surroundings are far more significant than the overall industry direction.
So a lower county-wide occupancy rate doesn’t dampen his enthusiastic outlook for the $10 million Holiday Inn Express he’s developing outside Mount Joy.
How could he be spooked when there’s Spooky Nook Sports just a three-minute drive away?
“We love our location,” said Desai, a Manheim native and second-generation hotelier whose family has more than 40 years of experience in the industry.
The triangular, 4.6-acre site at 1550 E. Main St. (Route 230) is bounded by Esbenshade Road and Old Harrisburg Pike, and across the street from a Sheetz convenience store.
With 85 rooms, including 17 suites, the Holiday Inn Express is set to open in summer 2020. It will employ 20 to 25 people during its peak times.
4th hotel near 'The Nook'
Desai's Rapho Township property isn’t the only hotel built on a foundation of opportunity emanating from “The Nook,” which is expected to draw a record 1.31 million visitors in 2019.
His will be the fourth within a two-mile radius of "The Nook," joining a Hampton Inn at Donegal Square, a Comfort Suites on Champ Boulevard and an independent, the Warehouse Hotel, inside “The Nook.”
But Desai isn’t relying entirely on “The Nook” to draw guests.
Desai also expects to host tourists traveling between Lancaster and Hershey, and families visiting loved ones at nearby Hospice & Community Care.
Of course, the location is just part of a hotel’s appeal. The quality of a hotel is a huge piece too. Again, Desai is confident his new 51,000-square-foot property has that facet covered.
The Holiday Inn Express will feature functional, flexible spaces including a great room with easily movable furniture, a business center and a conference room, he said.
Amenities will include free high-speed Wi-Fi, hot and cold breakfasts, an indoor pool, a patio, a guest laundry and a fitness center.
“It will have the most modern and refreshing feel,” said Desai on Thursday.
The hotel will be run by PA Dutch Hotels, a management company that Desai serves as director of operations. The company also runs a Comfort Suites on Lincoln Highway East, a Comfort Inn at the Shops at Rockvale and a Clarion Inn in Strasburg.
The developer, owner and franchisee is Lancaster Dutch Hospitality, which Desai serves as vice president.
“We are super excited to be building in the Manheim-Mount Joy community, creating jobs for local residents and tax revenue for the area,” said Desai, a Manheim Central High School graduate and now a Lancaster resident.
Construction of the new hotel started in August. Weaver Construction is the general contractor.
Tough year for local hotel industry
The Holiday Inn Express is going up as the county lodging industry experiences a down year, as measured by occupancy rate.
For the first 10 months, the rate was 55.5%, down from 62.9% in the comparable 2018 period, according to lodging industry data firm STR. That’s a decline of 11.8% and the worst rate in eight years.
But that rate is skewed a bit by the fact that the county in October had 8,134 guest rooms, 515 more than a year earlier, STR's research shows.
The lodging industry also benefitted from unusual factors in 2018, industry leaders say. As LNP reported in October, these included major entertainment events that attracted visitors and large construction projects that drew workers.
Another indicator of the lodging industry’s health is less dire. The county’s lodging industry sold 1.3 million room nights in the first 10 months of the year, down just 7.6%, according to STR.