Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Downtown Fresno on Aug. 9. Members of Axis Hotel Group and The Klassen Corporation gathered for the event. Photos by Ben Hensley
Written by Ben Hensley
The centralized location of Fresno and Clovis makes it prime real estate for hotels and airline travel; less than a three-hour drive from the coast, an hour drive to national parks and with the region hosting multiple sporting events annually, the Valley has always seen many tourists — be it for business, leisure or both.
Recently, the groundbreaking of two hotels, a Holiday Inn Express adjacent to the Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT) and a Courtyard Marriott near the Downtown Fresno Convention Center, has bred hope in restimulating a local economy recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are definitely still seeing that the parks are the No. 1 reason that they’re coming here,” said Lisa Oliveira, president and CEO of the Fresno/Clovis Convention and Visitors Bureau. “What we are seeing though is that they’re not only going to the parks, but they’re staying an extra day in the area.”
With travel restrictions lifted last year, leisure travel has seen a resurgence of late, with 73% of people planning to travel within the next six months, according to a Symphony Tourism Economics study.
Business travel is also experiencing a resurgence, with 34% of individuals planning business-related travel within the next six months, according to the study.
Despite the average daily rate having risen by an average $20 throughout the Valley, Oliveira says the local industry still sees an average of 65-70% capacity.
The addition of the two hotels will likely bring more travelers to the area, boosting the economy and creating Valley jobs — both in the hotels and the local businesses populated by tourists.
However, the market is not completely balanced throughout the city.
“In downtown itself we struggle,” said Nichole Castillo, Courtyard by Marriott Clovis/Fresno director of sales. “We lost all of these conventions due to the lack of rooms downtown.”
Some Fresno-area hotels have seen a transformation into low-income housing over the past decade.
The new Courtyard by Marriott downtown hopes to attract conventions back to the area.
“Travelers will be more confident traveling there,” said Taren Thandi, Axis Hotel Group chief operating office. “Seeing a new product and a new building — it’s exciting.”
With plans to expand the FAT terminal, projections for travel look to increase by as much as 18% by 2030, adding to the need for additional accommodation.
The main driving force behind Fresno and Clovis hotel usage remains sports, according to Castillo.
“Most of the championships are hosted in Fresno, California, because we’re centralized to northern and southern California,” she said.
The numbers don’t lie — according to a study by Sports ETA, traveler numbers have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, with 175 million people nationwide traveling for sporting events in 2021, an increase of 82% from just 96 million in 2020.
As a comparison, 2019 saw only slightly more sports-related travel, with 179 million people traveling for sporting events.
For hotels to remain competitive, not only are new builds necessary, but amenities are being considered as well.
“People have so many options now,” Castillo said. “If their hotels are older, they may struggle because people have so many options now.”
With that in mind, hotel groups are focusing much more on amenities and hospitality now, including room service, meeting and convention space and full-service food and beverage elements.
“Even through this economic downturn, I think at the height of things, we’ve almost reached 90% occupancy,” said Courtyard by Marriott Clovis General Manager Hector Ramos. “This certainly doesn’t spell, in a downturn economy, that we should be worried about the next five years.”
Despite the economic fluctuations brought about by a number of factors, one thing is certain — people are definitely still coming to the Central Valley, and with the addition of hotels in and around Fresno and Clovis, local groups foresee that becoming even more of a trend in the coming years.