Pop quiz: Which chain-scale segment experienced the sharpest fall-off in demand year-to-date through August?
Presumption would suggest luxury. After all, the segment has received more attention for poor performance during the downturn than any other—and deservedly so. It consistently leads RevPAR declines in Smith Travel Research’s weekly and monthly numbers, including a 20.4-percent drop for the week ending 26 September and a 26.8-percent RevPAR decline for the month of August in year-over-year comparisons.
You actually couldn’t go wrong throwing a dart anywhere near the upper end of the spectrum. The upper-upscale segment posted a 19.6-percent RevPAR drop (the second most severe in August), followed by upscale at -18.9 percent.
Yet demand numbers paint a different picture—one that could have a profound impact on recovery.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. To answer the original question, the midscale-with-food-and-beverage segment experienced the sharpest fall-off in demand through August, down 12.8 percent. The economy segment (yes, the segment perceived as a haven for cost-conscious travelers) followed with a decline of 8.6 percent.
The luxury segment, you ask? It posted a 4.9-percent decline, which was only the third-worst demand decline for the month. (Upscale led with a 2.1-percent decline.)
Demand numbers don’t provide the best measure of immediate performance because they typically only tell half the story. The yin to this yang is supply, an influx of which can devastate occupancy and, as a result, rate and room revenue. That’s one of many reasons why the luxury segment, with its relatively low demand decline, recorded the worst RevPAR for the month.
Demand by itself, however, is a good measure of a segment’s “health”—whether or not it still attracts travelers on a per-night basis.
Looking at the chart above, it becomes clear the midscale-with-F&B and the economy segments aren’t very healthy at all. What performance ills they suffered through August stemmed almost entirely from a lack of demand. For the other four segments, on the other hand, supply played a significant impact.
So what does this mean as we survey the beginnings of a supposed recovery?
“The reality is, that in those segments, their demand base, while eroding, hasn’t fallen off a cliff as is the perception,” said STR President Mark Lomanno during the 2009 Lodging Conference. “That would imply that those four segments will rebound faster.”
For the upper end of the market, an economic uptick can’t come soon enough. For the lower end (excluding midscale without F&B), it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride.