January’s Winter Storm Jonas brought enough snow to the eastern half of the United States to close major cities for days at a time, but how did hotels in affected markets perform during the blizzard?
BROOMFIELD, Colorado—Pictures say a lot, but they don’t always tell the whole story.
Over the third weekend of January, we witnessed snapshots of a snowed-in ghost town known as Manhattan. Streets were occupied by heavily bundled pedestrians rather than fleets of taxis. In the grips of Winter Storm Jonas, commerce was brought to a complete standstill.
However, many of those pictures tell a small fragment of the story. From Boston to Little Rock, Arkansas, the same wintry scenario was played out to varying degrees. Hopes of travel were dashed with every accumulating inch of snow, so the effect of severe weather on the hotel industry is difficult to ignore.
While travel bans were enforced and Broadway was obligated to close its doors, New York City hotels enjoyed a cozy weekend indoors. According to STR data, occupancy saw an increase of 9.4% (64.1% to 70.1%), while revenue per available room managed to rise 12.2% ($115.32 to $129.43). This is not a bad change, considering LaGuardia Airport and JFK International Airport were effectively snowed in under 27.9 inches and 30.5 inches of powder, respectively. New York came out on the plus side as a whole, reporting a 1.01% increase in occupancy and 1.04% increase in RevPAR from 18-28 January. (STR is the parent company of Hotel News Now.)
In Boston, snowfall totals were about a third of the accumulation recorded in New York City. However, year-over-year occupancy fell 0.8% while RevPAR increased 4.3%. The reason? Boston had its own wintry hazard in the form of Winter Storm Juno during the same week in 2015.
West Virginia was walloped by Jonas, with much of the state snow measurements exceeding 30 inches (the sleepy hamlet of Shepherdstown was the big “winner,” drubbing the competition with a snow accumulation of 40.5 inches). As a whole, occupancy plummeted 25.7% year over year from 52.6% to 39.1%. RevPAR fared even worse, dropping 29.5% from $49.06 to $34.58. With little tourism to fall back on, a mostly suburban or rural state like West Virginia can be dealt a harsh blow by a weather event of similar scale.
Snow in the South
While New York, New England and the mountainous West Virginia are no strangers to such conditions, it’s a slightly different story in America’s Heartland.
In Nashville, Tennessee, where snowplows are few and far between, seven inches of snow was enough to disrupt travel and force a state of emergency. Of course, in a tourism-reliant city with an array of hotel options, visitors with no choice but to stick around another day or two supplemented the spike in year-over-year occupancy (+7.7%) and RevPAR (+11.6%).
We haven’t seen a storm like Jonas in years, and hopefully we don’t again for some time. But if there is a lesson to be learned here, it’s that with proper insight, preparation and a bit of luck, the hotel industry can make this kind of serious weather work in its favor.