Local hotels: No vacancy?

WHEELING – Natural gas drilling industry workers and event attendees may soon clash for a room at the inn at some of the Wheeling area’s hotels.

An influx of drilling-related guests has raised the average Ohio County hotel occupancy percentage from 72 percent to 90 percent over the past year. This could lead to problems with the hundreds of rooms that will be needed for people planning to attend this year’s Beast of the East baseball tournament, slated for late June 28-July 1; Jamboree In The Hills, July 19-22; the Heritage Music Blues Fest, Aug. 10-12; and the Super Six West Virginia High School football championship games in December.

“This is a good problem to have,” said Frank O’Brien, executive director of the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s a great addition to our normal tourism drivers such as the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, Cabela’s, Oglebay Park and the Capitol Theatre.”

He said planning is the key to securing a room. Many people book rooms up to a year in advance of their visit while drilling people seldom make reservations beyond a week out.

“Most hotels block rooms for the major events,” he said. “As advanced reservations come in, the amount of available rooms are subtracted from the block until the rooms are filled. Rooms are not held for oil and gas workers. They are told when they check in that if they need to extend their stay, they should do so as soon as possible. If they do not have a room reserved by the time they check out, the rooms are booked to other guests.”

O’Brien said event planners have developed a long-term relationship with hotel owners and every effort is made to accommodate them. He said Ohio County’s current room inventory is at nearly 1,000 and another 80 rooms will be added when the Microtel facility is completed at The Highlands.

In addition to the trickle down economic boosters at local restaurants and retail stores, the bed tax revenue is on the rise. This is especially helpful in Ohio County where a large share of the CVB’s hotel/motel tax is earmarked to pay the debt service on the Capitol Theatre.

“Hotels and motels throughout West Virginia charge a 6 percent state tax and a 6 percent local occupancy tax. Convention and Visitors Bureaus receive at least 50 percent of the occupancy tax to be used for the promotion of tourism,” he said.

According to O’Brien, his agency’s share of the tax has increased from $597,828 in 2007 to $829,840 last year.

“In spite of a possible shortage of rooms at the inn, we intend to keep doing what we do,” he said. “Our job is to attract visitors to Wheeling and Ohio County. They will need a place to stay and they will be eating and shopping at local businesses.”