Fresno County hotels bucking national trend

FRESNO, California Fresno County hotels are bucking the trend and outperforming those across the country. Since the darkest moments of the recession, these hotels have actually been gaining ground.

When the Holiday Inn Express opened up along Highway 99 eight months ago, the Valley's economic tailspin hadn't reached rock bottom. But as unemployment rose, so did the hotel's occupancy rate.

"At the beginning, it was slow," said the hotel's sales manager Mallorie Paulson. "It's always slow when you have something new opening up. Now, we're running strong. We're about 60%."

California is the number one state for tourism and Fresno County is near the top of the list of destinations. Occupancy rates across the country are at less than 54%. California's is better at 59%, but Fresno County's is even higher, at 62%.

Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia parks are easy sells, especially internationally. But getting international visitors to stay in Fresno County isn't as easy.

"For example, when we traveled to Germany we found out a lot of the people there are interested in hiking and nature, and they didn't realize we have all that here in Fresno County," said Layla Forstedt, vice president of the Fresno Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Hotels are also benefiting from Fresno's sports venues. Woodward Park's BMX park is drawing big competitions. The Southwest Regional Sports Complex draws soccer and softball tournaments. A paintball facility is opening soon.

"We are promoting -- sports market is huge for us because of our weather and our excellent venues we have here," said Forstedt.

Filling the hotel rooms is critical for Fresno County's economy. Travel and tourism brings more than $1.3 billion in revenue and keeps almost 16,000 people at work. It's a big enough pie to keep competition coming for more. Eight new hotels opened in the last year and more are under construction.

"They just saw how well the properties that were up were doing, so they're like 'Well, let's get in there and grab some,'" said Paulson.

Six new Clovis hotels opened just in time for last year's stop of the Amgen Tour of California, but Fresno County's two biggest hotel events are the FFA convention and the Tulare Ag Expo.

Hotels sell a few thousand rooms for each of those events.

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