by Cathy A. Enz, Ph.D., Linda Canina, Ph.D., and Mark Lomanno
Executive Summary: The long-running debate over whether hotels should discount room rates to boost financial performance becomes particularly contentious during tough economic times. The results reported in this study show that discounting relative to the competitive set does, in fact, fill a hotel, but the study also clearly shows that hotels in direct competition make more money when they maintain their price structure and do not discount to fill rooms. Data drawn from over 6,000 hotels between 2001 and 2003 show that hotels with lower prices relative to their competitive set captured market share from the competition, but did not gain higher RevPAR. Conversely, those with higher prices relative to their competitive set had lower occupancy and higher RevPAR. These results suggest a strategy of holding rates constant when competitors are discounting, or even raising prices to a small degree. By raising prices above the competition a hotel will lose occupancy but make up for that loss with higher RevPAR. By offering a lower relative price, on the other hand, a hotel will gain occupancy but its RevPAR performance will be lower than that of its competitive set.
In particular, the data analyzed over the last three years, a difficult period for the industry, show that when a given hotel discounted its room rates to a greater degree than its competitive set, the result was decreased RevPAR compared to its competition (despite increased occupancy). The dynamics between price and occupancy remain quite stable from segment to segment, but the degree to which higher relative prices produce dramatic or gradual relative drops in occupancy does vary by segment. In addition, for 2003 small relative price increases did not enhance relative RevPAR for some segments.