Airport hotels expand in face of pandemic challenges

An artist's rendering of the Home2 Suites and Tru dual-branded hotel to be built next to the Georgia International Convention Center. Source: Premier Petroleum Hospitality
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An artist's rendering of the Home2 Suites and Tru dual-branded hotel to be built next to the Georgia International Convention Center. Source: Premier Petroleum Hospitality

Credit: Source: Premier Petroleum Hospitality

Credit: Source: Premier Petroleum Hospitality

Construction of a $30 million hotel facility near Hartsfield-Jackson International airport has finally started. It’s a year later than anticipated, but the opening might come at just the right time, the developer says.

Trouble finding a general contractor during the pandemic caused the first delays. And supply chain headaches might lead to more. But hotel developer Aziz Dhanani said he hopes that by the time he opens Home2 Suites and Tru hotel, travel will be nearly recovered to pre-COVID-19 levels.

Dhanani, CEO of Premier Petroleum Hospitality, expects the dual-branded 148-room extended-stay Home2 Suites and 105-room budget-oriented Tru to open for business in early 2023. Originally, the hotels were supposed to open in early 2022.

Dhanani expects to draw business from airline crews, people in town for sports events at the Gateway Center Arena and other travelers.

The project will add to the cluster of hotels already located at the Gateway Center. They include a Marriott, SpringHill Suites, Renaissance and AC Hotel.

Though some conventions have returned to downtown Atlanta, many organizers are downscaling their events. “Hotel demand is starting to come back,” said Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau chief financial officer Gregory Pierce, but convention business in 2022 is expected to be about 50-70% of 2019 levels.

Cookie Smoak believes a trend toward smaller conventions could benefit the airport area and its smaller convention center.

“We’re definitely going to recover faster than the downtown corridor, particularly because of our size,” said Smoak, president of the Atlanta Airport District Convention & Visitors Bureau.

But there are still challenges in attracting business travelers. Hotel occupancy for metro Atlanta, year-to-date, is about 60%, up from 47.7% last year, according to ACVB. In 2019, it was nearly 70%.

Still, the Gateway Center plans to be ready when travel returns to normal. More hotels are still envisioned for the Gateway Center campus, though some have been delayed. An Aloft and Residence Inn dual-branded hotel is expected to begin construction next July behind the BMW training facility there, according to College Park economic development director Artie Jones. But a Sheraton hotel planned pre-COVID for the campus is on hold, Smoak said.

Closer to the airport, a long-planned Hilton that was to be built next to Hartsfield-Jackson’s domestic terminal continues to be delayed as developers scale back their plans for the site.

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