Hotels prepare for holiday travel

Not everyone can stay at Grandma's house during the holiday season, so many people turn to hotels for a home away from home.
As the holidays draw closer, business travel declines, and family travel increases. Eighty percent of North Carolina's visitors come to the state for a pleasure trip, according to recent North Carolina Department of Commerce statistics. About 12 percent of travelers come to the state for business purposes.
Catawba County has 22 hotels providing services for travelers in the area, including hotels in Conover, Hickory and Claremont.
The Hampton Inn of Hickory is primarily a business-travel hotel. Front office manager Amber Williams said the holiday season changes their normally business-oriented guests into more family travelers.
"It's really nice to see all the children come during the holidays," Williams said. "They seem to really enjoy the decorations."
This is the first holiday season for the Hampton Inn, which opened in late December 2009. To celebrate the hotel's inaugural Christmas season, the lobby is guarded by twin life-size nutcrackers, as well as several Christmas trees and a Santa Claus.
"We're really excited about the holidays," Williams said. "We're just making sure we're fully staffed."
The Hampton Inn employs about 25 people, who work around the clock to serve guests with needs ranging from missing toothbrushes to a faulty Internet connection.
Taylor Dellinger, a data analyst for the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, recently completed a study about Catawba County hotels' revenue. Dellinger said the county sees a spike in tourism in the summer months as families travel on vacation. Another spike in tourism occurs in the fall, with leaf season and the Greater Hickory Classic golf tournament.
"People come to look at the leaves, and the golf tournament always seems to come at a similar time," Dellinger said.
He said hotels experience a smaller spike during winter months, as people travel for the holiday season.
December through February represents the slowest time for North Carolina travel, according to the N.C. Division of Tourism, Film and Sports development, with about 17 percent of 2009's visitors arriving in the winter months.
Kent Reitzel, who works in guest services at the Sleep Inn of Hickory, confirmed winter months are often slower than peak travel seasons.
"Most of our clientele are because people are traveling for business," Reitzel said. "And that slows down because of the holidays."
The Sleep Inn in Hickory has about 80 rooms, including their double rooms, which feature two beds separated by a door.
The single largest month for visitors to North Carolina is June, which accounted for almost 12 percent of 2009 visitors.
According to the NCDOC, almost 40 million trips were taken in North Carolina in 2009, which ranks the state sixth in the country in domestic visitation.
Travel and tourism in North Carolina generates about $22 billion in total economic impact for the state.