Despite Pandemic, Hotel Industry Grows in Tuscaloosa
The Homewood Suites by Hilton and the Comfort Inn and Suites will become the fourth and fifth hotels to open their doors in the downtown area, joining the Embassy Suites, Hotel Indigo and Home2 Suites.
"Obviously, it's important for us as a tourism and destination marketing organization to have a variety of hotel supply," said Jasmine Rainey, Director of Tourism at Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports. "When we're trying to market Tuscaloosa as a destination for visitors to come in and stay overnight, you want to have multiple different options that cater to several different demographics of travelers."
The Homewood Suites by Hilton becomes the second hotel developed by Cohen Investments. In April 2015, the Memphis-based investment firm opened the Home2 Suites, a 113-suite hotel on University Boulevard.
Chief Operations Officer of Cohen Investments Stuart Cohen said the Homewood Suites will have 114 rooms, an in-ground pool, an exercise room and a rooftop bar.
Counting the addition of the two new hotels in the downtown area, Tuscaloosa County now has 11 hotels planned or under development, Rainey said.
This comes after a decrease in the year-to-date hotel occupancy from March to May. Rainey said that due to COVID-19, all three months saw a year-to-date occupancy decrease of 30 percent or more. Occupancy was most affected by the pandemic in April as it saw a 53 percent drop from 2019 to 2020.
Rainey, who has been in the hotel industry since 2009, remained optimistic despite the three-month loss because of Mayor Walt Maddox's economic plan "Restart Tuscaloosa." Approved by the Tuscaloosa City Council on May 19, the initiative is set to invest $15 million into public safety, neighborhoods, small businesses, experiences and local agencies.
"This is going to be major for hotels because, people don't stop to realize that hotels never close," Rainey said. "They are a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year operation."
"There's comments about the demand of football season and what that brings to our hotels, but you've got to realize that's seven weekends out of the year, compared to a hotel that never closes," Rainey continued. "It's a way to create demand for every other day out of the entire year outside of football season."
The Comfort Inn and Suites, which was supposed to be open in the spring, is still under construction. The Homewood Suites expects to open its doors in January 2021.