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Hotels are latest Boro growth industry

Three properties expect to add 297 guest rooms

            Local hoteliers are casting a watchful eye over the marketplace as construction begins on two new hotels:  a Holiday Inn and a Springhill Suites. And renovation nears completion on a third: the Quality Inn and Suites.

            According to Jaime Riggs, executive director of the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau, those three properties will bring an additional 297 guest rooms to Statesboro's lodging industry. Riggs predicts the net result will be a new competitiveness between hotels and motels in the area.

            "Local property owners are already renovating and stepping up their marketing efforts to compete with larger chains," Riggs said. "For example, take the Parkwood RV Park and Cottages on Highway 301 South. It is a family owned operation that has renovated and opened a new conference center to compete with the amenities that other hotels are offering."

            Riggs isn't the only industry insider sensing an imminent shakeup as local facilities compete for lodging guests. Sean Hargraves, general manager of the Comfort Inn and Suites and the LaQuinta Inn in Statesboro, is forthright in his assessment of things to come.

            "Once construction of the Holiday Inn and the Springhill Suites is completed, I really feel the market will be saturated at that point," Hargraves said. "That will force everyone to focus on cleanliness, customer service, and providing a wonderful lodging experience."

            "People will have a number of choices now, and we all are going to have to earn our repeat business," he said. "It will be great for the customer, I just don't know how it will be for the smaller independents that are used to getting the overflow from the chains. Ultimately, we could see a price war."

            Local businessman, Doug Lambert, is the spokesman for the investment group building the Holiday Inn which will face the Statesboro Bypass near the intersection of the Bypass and Brannen Street. Lambert said a sharp increase in the number of hotel rooms in the area has happened in the past.

            "A few years ago, the Holiday Inn Express and the Fairfield Inn (now the LaQuinta) opened about the same time," Lambert said. "It had an effect on the market creating somewhat of a glut, but Statesboro continued to grow and things worked out fine."

            "I imagine we will see the same type thing when all of the new and renovated properties are opened," he said. "However, I really feel like things will be okay."

            Riggs said the additional rooms present her organization with an opportunity it hasn't had until now.

            "Once all of the planned development is completed, we will have over 1000 rooms in the immediate Statesboro area," she said. "This will enable us to market our community to different convention groups that we have been unable to market to in the past. The hotels scheduled to open in 2008 have already been earmarked for larger conference bids. I am very optimistic that we are going to get more and more convention business."

            Lambert said he and his partners sensed an opportunity and felt Statesboro needed the kind of hotel that his group is building.

            "When a group of local investors found out that the Holiday Inn Express franchise was going to expire later this year, they decided to develop a full service Holiday Inn," Lambert said. "The Statesboro Mall/Statesboro Bypass area was seen as a perfect location because all of the area dining and retail services."

            Mike Randawala followed that same vision of opportunity when he purchased the original Holiday Inn Hotel on South Main Street almost a year ago. When Randawala bought it at auction, the hotel was being operated as a Guest Inn.

            Randawala, owner of three other hotels including a Fairfield Inn in Hinesville and a Holiday Inn in Richmond Hill, has completely "gutted" two of the three buildings and plans to open his Quality Inn and Suites, a Choice Hotel franchise, the second week in August. It has been a grueling renovation process, and Randawala is anxious to see his property open.

            "This will be a full service hotel," Randawala said. "The restaurant will be a Manny's Bar and Grill, which is a franchise out of Charleston. We will have an exercise room, conference room, and pool area. You have to do these things to be competitive today."

            The Comfort Inn and Suites, which is located at the intersection of the Statesboro Bypass and Highway 67, has just added an additional wing which includes a large meeting room and 20 new executive suites.

            "We have to continue to better the properties that we have," Hargraves said. "Now that the Comfort Inn is finished, we will begin some renovations at the LaQuinta, our other local property which is located on Lanier Drive near Georgia Southern's football stadium."

            "We are changing the bedding, artwork, carpet and related items," he said. "We are doing these things in anticipation of the competition. We are going to continue to improve the ambience of our properties, because guests expect much more now. Our new suites in the Comfort Inn have flat screen plasma televisions and granite counter tops in the bathrooms. That sort of stuff is becoming standard fare."

            Riggs said Springhill Suites is scheduled to open in the summer of 2008. Slated to have 113 suites and a free standing 6,000 square foot meeting room, the complex will be located at the corner of Highway 67 and the Statesboro Bypass. Springhill Suites is a franchise of the Marriott Corporation.

            The Statesboro Visitors and Convention Bureau lists 21 different hotel/motel properties in the greater Statesboro area including those currently under construction.

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