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Checking in or out? Hotel Foot Traffic Recovery in the Pandemic Era

The pandemic hit few industries harder than hotels, which depend on real-world foot traffic. Unacast used Unacast Now and Tableau to build an interactive map visualizing the top ten US brands’ foot traffic performance between October 2018 and November 2021. 

How are hotel chains weathering the pandemic recovery?

What factors may be giving certain brands an advantage?

Hotel Foot Traffic: Sizing up the Main Characters 

The top 10 US hotel brands by foot traffic are as follows and in order:

  • Hampton Inn
  • Best Western
  • Courtyard by Marriott
  • Quality Inn
  • Motel 6
  • Hilton Hotels & Resorts
  • Super 8
  • Doubletree by Hilton
  • Comfort Inn
  • Holiday Inn

Every brand shows a significant decline in foot traffic around March 2020, but the magnitude of the decline varied, as did the pace of recovery afterward. 

Hampton Inn, the leading brand, saw its foot traffic decline from about 12,000 monthly visits pre-pandemic to well below 5,000 in early 2020. The brand’s visits hover around 7,000 now. Visits to Best Western, the no. 2 brand, dropped from about 8,000 to just above 2,000 when COVID struck. But Best Western has recovered about two thirds of lost traffic, which comes out to about 6,000 visits now. By contrast, Motel 6’s traffic dropped from about 6,000 to 3,000 over this period but is now greater than the initial 6,000 and continues to climb.

How has Motel 6, the nation’s no. 5 hotel brand, been able to emerge from the past few years with foot traffic trending in the right direction while its rivals struggle? 

Hampton Inn and Best Western provide comparably priced midscale lodging options and have an equivalent national reach, each with around 2,000 locations across the U.S. Motel 6 has a more modest presence in two senses: 1) the brand counts around 1,400 locations and 2) bills itself as a reliable budget option for lodging on the road.

It’s possible that Motel 6’s no-frills branding is the source of its unexpected windfall in the COVID era.

Pricing in major cities where these three chains are in direct competition shows that Motel 6’s nightly room rate runs from one-third to half the cost of a night at Hampton or Best Western. This may make Motel 6 an attractive option for those traveling mid-pandemic, especially as COVID put a damper on many of the traditional amenities (meal service, spa or gym options, etc.) that would typically separate a midscale hotel from a budget experience. 

Further research into pandemic-related factors influencing visitation — including messaging around new COVID policies and customer experience surveys — could lead to a better understanding of how consumers’ considerations and desires have affected gaps in hotel performance over the past three years.

Regional Trends

A quick glance at our map reveals Hampton Inn, the leading brand nationwide, dominates the eastern half of the country. The Hilton affiliate only fails to take the top East Coast spot in Massachusetts, where it comes in second to Courtyard by Marriott. 

Hampton’s lagging performance here is surprising.

Hampton Inn has a lead on Courtyard Inn in sheer number of Massachusetts locations, boasting 40 hotels to Courtyard’s 23. But Courtyard pulls in significantly more visits in 11 of the 16 cities where the brands operate, including three of the state’s four most-populated cities.

Of the two brands, Courtyard comes in slightly higher price-wise than Hampton, averaging about $30 more per night for a room in downtown Boston despite similar amenities. This data should prompt further investigation on the part of both brands. Perhaps Courtyard’s north-of-budget branding is proving more attractive to a wider range of visitors than Hampton’s midscale offerings. Hampton might consider how to appeal to the business and leisure classes in Massachusetts’ urban centers. Delving further into its outstanding performance in the state might help Courtyard make adjustments in neighboring markets with cultural and economic affinities.

Motel 6, the aforementioned COVID-era high performer, claims the no. 1 spot in Texas, New Mexico, and California. Is there something culturally about these states that led Motel 6 to outperform its rivals there? The uncertainties of pandemic travel led many Americans to stay closer to home when it comes to vacation time, opting for escapes accessible by car rather than expensive and crowded flights.

Motel 6 promises clean, reasonably priced lodging for “wherever the road takes you” and might appeal especially to those seeking the balmy climes and natural beauty in these Southern regions.

Recommendations

A brief analysis of hotel foot traffic surfaces a number of recommendations:

1) Hampton Inn, the nation’s leading hotel brand, has had a tougher time recovering from COVID than many of its rivals, including its closest competitor, Best Western. Hampton should delve further into the data. Comparing COVID protocols might explain its competitors’ relative prosperity and help it plan for the future.


2) Motel 6 is the clear COVID-era outperformer. Motel 6’s leaders should take a closer look into the reasons for their success: Is there additional evidence that competitiveness on price appears to be fueling Motel 6’s advantage? Are there areas similar to those where Motel 6 has prospered to which the brand can expand?


3)Hampton Inn dominates the eastern half of the country, but Courtyard by Marriott is the leader in Massachusetts. Should Hampton experiment with its pricing to capture a more upscale market? Can Courtyard learn from its success in the Bay State to find gains in neighboring markets?


This is only the beginning of what foot traffic analysis can reveal for hotels and other brick-and-mortar brands. Schedule to speak with a Unacast representative now to review how location data can improve and expand your business.

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