Hotels serving workers in the Marcellus Shale energy fields in the U.S. provide extra amenities and services to meet the special needs of the industry.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The new energy boom in the United States has been a boon for many hotels. In the Marcellus Shale natural gas fields of southwest Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, New York and West Virginia, hotel operators are going to great lengths to serve guests who work in the industry.
To meet the needs of these guests, hotels have adjusted their food-and-beverage offerings and housekeeping services, putting forward other services and amenities including: boot cleaning stations, special parking areas, extra security and websites meant to bring in energy business.
Washington County in southwest Pennsylvania is at the center of the energy boom, and its hotels have performed well since drilling started in 2008. According to STR, the parent company of Hotel News Now, in 2012 the 23 hotels in the county in its census posted a 77.8% occupancy. That followed occupancies of 76.4% in 2011 and 75% in 2010. Average daily rate rose 7.6% last year, while revenue per available room increased 9.5%.
Serving a niche market
Shale Hotel, a Bentleyville, Pennsylvania-based hotel owner, has been especially aggressive in courting the energy business. The company has a Holiday Inn Express and a Best Western in Bentleyville and last month closed on the acquisition of a 187-room Holiday Inn in nearby Monroeville. It also has two hotels under development in the area: a 79-room Microtel, which opens next month; and an 86-room Studio 6, which is expected to go under construction early next year.
“We’re in the service industry so we do what we can to service these clients better than anybody else in the area,” said Tejas Gosai, president of Shale Hotel. “We did a lot of surveys and market studies and found (energy workers staying with us) were really unhappy when they have to leave the hotels without a meal because their work schedules requires them to leave at 3, 4 or 5 in the morning.”
In response, Shale’s properties started serving breakfast from 3 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. In early afternoon, the hotels offer soup and other snacks in their lobbies and have another breakfast service starting at 3 p.m.
“It’s only because of traditions in the hotel industry that we didn’t have breakfast as early as these guests wanted.” Gosai said. “We started changing one process—breakfast— then another process—housekeeping—and then a third and more.”
He said the company spent about $100,000 to extend the parking lots at its hotels to accommodate the crews’ trucks and some equipment. It also added security cameras and guards for further protection.
“All in all, it was about $200,000 in improvements, but it didn’t happen until we knew (the workers) needed it,” Gosai said.
At Shale properties, housekeeping hours are staggered from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. because the crews typically work 12-hour shifts that end at irregular times. At the DoubleTree Pittsburgh-Meadowlands, a second shift of housekeepers start at noon to ensure rooms are clean whenever guests need them, said GM Mark Herron in an email.
Comfort and relaxation
Hotel executives said it’s important to make the crews as comfortable and welcome as possible while they are at the hotels. The Holiday Inn Express in Dickson City, Pennsylvania, near Scranton, hosts an extended manager’s reception with hot and cold appetizers, beer, wine and soda, as well as an Xbox video game system for use by guests.
Herron said the DoubleTree installed a boot cleaning station at one of three entrances to the hotel and transformed the area into “an accelerated lobby…with an electric fireplace, flat-screen TV and coffee and tea service for early-morning departures.”
Herron said first-quarter RevPAR at the DoubleTree rose from mid-$90 in 2012 to $120 this year.
Some hotels benefit from the energy boom in other ways. Plato Ghinos, president of Shaner Hotels, owner and operator of 40-plus properties, said the company’s six hotels in the region serve “a vast variety of clientele” directly or indirectly involved in the energy business.
“At some hotels we deal more with engineers and surveyors who may rent meeting space for three or four months,” he said. “At another hotel it might be a crew of workers, so we set up a barbecue and bar area for them to relax and catch up after long shifts in the fields.”
Shaner also developed a website designed to drive energy-related business to its hotels in the area.
“We’re big believers in e-commerce,” Ghinos said. “We market it to all the vendors, suppliers and servicers to the industry so it is easy for them to see where our hotels are located.”