Plaza Independencia: now catering to students. Plaza Independencia: now catering to students.

Hotels innovate for downturn in Tabasco

Occupancy rates plummeted with oil industry's decline

A dramatic downturn in visitor numbers in Tabasco has forced hotels in the Gulf coast state to innovate in order to survive.

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Occupancy rates barely reached 10% in 2016, leading to the dismissal of more than 2,000 employees and the closure of around 3,000 hotel rooms. Faced with the prospect of economic collapse, some hotel operators decided to diversify their services to attract more guests.

Instead of travelers visiting the oil-rich state to conduct business with state oil company Pemex — on whom the hospitality industry has long depended — some are now looking to a very different market that includes students and people traveling with their pets.

The Plaza Independencia, located in the historic center of the state capital Villahermosa, is one hotel that changed its business model in response to the situation. The manager explained to the newspaper El Universal that an entire floor of the hotel has been modified to attract students and cater to their needs.

“We are looking to differentiate ourselves from other hotels in the city,” Ramón de la Peña said.

“We’re offering a different product that in this case is directed at students . . . This will help us to cover the room vacancies that we have,” he added.

Students can now stay at the hotel at reduced monthly rates of 3,000 to 3,500 pesos (US $157 – $184) for a single or double occupancy room with all the usual hotel facilities and services included.

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While the new concept is still in its infancy, de la Peña said that students are beginning to show interest and he is confident that the hotel will be able to fill at least 10 of the 15 available rooms.

The economic downturn precipitated by decreased activity in the oil sector had affected all aspects of the hospitality industry, he explained.

“All of the sectors that are directly related with the petroleum industry have been hit; restaurateurs, travel agents, hotels, everything has gone down and we all have reduced occupancy,” he said.

“. . . Add to that the insecurity that the [state] has been living through for the last couple of years . . . and therefore we can only innovate and look for other segments [of the market].”

At least nine hotels, both in Villahermosa and Paraíso, have responded to the downturn by becoming “pet-friendly,” meaning that owners can stay alongside their furry friends, although the service comes at an extra cost of between 150 and 350 pesos.

Others have expanded their restaurant menus to cater to better cater to vegetarians and vegans.

However, other hotels such as the Olmeca Plaza in Villahermosa have instead decided to shut down large parts of their operations. The hotel’s manager blames a lack of facilities to attract visitors to the state as the source of the problem.

“The situation is critical . . . we have entire floors closed . . . The hotel sector needs precincts where conferences, national meetings and concerts can be held but we don’t have them . . .” Omar Medina Espinoza said.

The state government announced a plan to build a new convention center in October 2015 but little progress was made and in June it announced that the project had been scrapped altogether.

Still, hotel owners are optimistic that 2018 will be a good year after innovation and adjustment helped the sector to recover substantially in 2017 and reach a much-improved occupancy rate of 48%.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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