WINCHESTER — This year’s opening of a new Foreign Affairs Security Training Center south of Richmond had a negative impact on hotels in the Winchester area.
According to data from STR, an international firm that tracks trends in the hospitality industry, local occupancy rates have dropped nearly 15% since January 2018, and room revenues have fallen almost 20%.
Priya Patel, co-owner of the Winchester area’s Wingate, Motel 6 and the soon-to-open Tru lodging facilities, said the declines are due to the U.S. State Department moving its security training facility from Summit Point, W.Va., to Fort Pickett in Nottoway County.
The Foreign Affairs Security Training Center teaches State Department personnel, foreign affairs staff and law enforcement agencies how to stay safe in hostile environments. Trainees learn how to detect surveillance, provide emergency medical care, recognize improvised explosive devices, increase skills with firearms and perform defensive driving maneuvers.
Since 2005, the center operated at a race track in Summit Point.
When the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center was shifted to the Virginia Army National Guard’s Fort Pickett earlier this year, Winchester-area hotels lost a steady stream of revenue from State Department personnel who had been training at Summit Point.
This occurred concurrently with the construction of three new hotels in the Winchester area. When finished, their rooms will be added to the existing local inventory of 34 hotels.
Patel said she is not too concerned about adding more hotels at a time when occupancy rates are down because, as the cost of living in Northern Virginia continues to escalate, the Winchester area is experiencing steady growth.
The region also draws a significant number of tourists, some of whom stay for one night while driving to another destination and others who spend several days seeing the sights in and around Winchester.
Lani Pendleton, general manager of the Hawkeye Hotels brand in Winchester, said an increase in leisure travel has helped to offset the loss of State Department dollars.
Patel said visitors to the Winchester area seem comfortable with hotel rates of $110 to $119 a night, but she will adjust rates as necessary to make sure the average number of nightly stays does not decrease any further.
Meanwhile, private rentals offered online through services including AirBnB and HomeAway are thriving in the Winchester area.
According to data from the tracking firm AirDNA, the total number of privately rented vacation dwellings in Winchester and Frederick County increased from 74 in June 2018 to 83 in June of this year. Fifty-eight percent of those dwellings are filled on any given night, and renters are paying an average of $141.99 per day.
“I love to see that growth because it shows an increase in leisure travel,” Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Justin Kerns said on Thursday.
Patel and Pendleton said the growing popularity of private vacation rentals has not had a negative impact on local hotel revenues.
In the near future, there could be even more people needing a place to stay in the Winchester area. Kerns said there is currently a strong push to market the region as a wedding destination.
“There’s a lot of money in it,” he said.