DAYTONA BEACH — With limited attendance at Daytona International Speedway due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona failed to deliver the typical boost in occupancy and rates, according to many Volusia County hoteliers.
“It was completely down, nothing that compared with past years,” said Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County. “As far as the race, as expected, there was a limited amount of people in the stands, so we were down considerably in rooms.”
This past weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, which hosted around 40,000 spectators last year, was held with limited fans in the grandstands and infield, and with COVID-19 health protocols in place.
Fans in the infield were allowed into the FanZone, but pit road, the garage and paddock areas were all closed.
Davis offered his appraisal of the impact of the limited attendance based on responses from area hotel managers to an online survey this week by the hotel association about business generated by the race. Many responded that this year’s numbers trailed occupancy for the race weekend a year ago.
Occupancy and average daily room rate was “much lower” for the hotels owned and operated by Ormond Beach-based Elite Hospitality Inc., according to Manoj Bhoola, president and CEO.
Based on the pace of bookings for the upcoming Daytona 500 and Bike Week, Bhoola predicted that those key major events would yield “a fraction of last year’s room revenue for the hospitality industry including area bars and restaurants.”
Elite’s roster of area hotels includes the Ormond Beach Best Western Castillo Del Sol; the Best Western Plus International Speedway; Hampton Inn by Hilton Daytona Speedway Airport; and the Hilton Garden Inn at Daytona Beach International Airport.
The addition of new hotels, especially on the mainland, threatened to out-pace demand even before the pandemic put its stranglehold on the tourism industry in Volusia County and worldwide, Bhoola said.
“This first quarter for Volusia County will be one of the all-time historical lows due to the pandemic,” Bhoola said by email. “The Daytona Beach area did not absorb all the oversupply hotel rooms that were built around the mainland because there was zero additional demand for them.”
Occupancy also took a hit at hotels owned and operated by Ormond Beach-based Premier Resorts & Management, said Domien Takx, the company’s vice president of operations.
“We sold all available rooms Friday and Saturday, but did not do as well as previous years on the shoulder days of Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday,” Takx said. “Average daily rates were materially lower than last year and it was harder to sell all rooms, even for Friday and Saturday.”
Premier properties include Hilton Garden Inn; Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites; Best Western Daytona Inn Seabreeze; and Ocean Breeze Club Hotel, all in Daytona Beach; as well as the Holiday Inn Express & Suites, Daytona Beach Shores.
Room rates at the company’s hotels also were down compared with previous years.
“With less attendance comes less room demand, so naturally rates will be lower than usual,” Takx said. “We priced ourselves appropriately, and we are grateful for the attendees and groups that stayed at our hotels during the pandemic.”
Pace for upcoming events slower
At the same time, other hotels offered a more encouraging report on the weekend.
At One Daytona, across the street from the Speedway, occupancy and room rates were “pretty consistent with previous years” at The Daytona Marriott Autograph Collection hotel and the Fairfield Inn & Suites, said Nancy Guran, director of sales for both hotels.
Looking ahead, both hotels are approaching capacity for the upcoming Speedweeks and Daytona 500, although the pace has been a little slower, Guran said.
“When all is said and done I think we will do as well as the previous year,” she said. “We are excited that Daytona International Speedway has continued to host events and we appreciate all that they and their teams have done to keep our guests safe.”
Elsewhere, Rolex weekend occupancy was up by about 10% compared with the same weekend a year ago at the 91-room Sun Viking Lodge in Daytona Beach Shores, said owner Gary Brown.
“I didn’t notice a lot of race car fans there, just general visitors,” Brown said. “But we’ll take every little bit we can get.”
‘I don’t anticipate a big increase’
Bookings at the Sun Viking Lodge are “inching up” for the Feb. 14th running of the Daytona 500, “but we’re not seeing much,” Brown said. “With the limited number of fans, I don’t anticipate a big increase in occupancy there.”
Over the weekend, Daytona International Speedway President Chip Wile said he expects around 30,000 fans at next month’s Daytona 500, another race to be run with limited track attendance.
The Speedway announced in December that the number of fans allowed to attend the Daytona 500 would be limited because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the Speedway, which holds 101,500 spectators, doesn’t announce attendance numbers, there were an estimated 25,000 fans at last August’s Coke Zero Sugar 400.
Before the pandemic, the 500 typically attracted a capacity crowd.
At 212-room Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach Shores, bookings tied to the Daytona 500 are lagging behind last year’s pace, said Rob Burnetti, the hotel’s general manager.
“We were sold out last year for the 500 at this point, but that was pre-COVID,” Burnetti said. “Right now, we’re at half of where we were at this same time last year.”
Yet even with limited attendance, signature races such as the Rolex and the Daytona 500 contribute to strong weekends in combination with other factors, Burnetti said.
“This past Saturday was really strong for us,” said Burnetti , adding that the hotel sold-out on Saturday and reached 70-75% occupancy on Friday and Sunday. “The race was part of it, but it was a combination of everything.”
Burnetti said that other business was generated by weekend leisure travelers and groups in town for the Daytona Beach 100 Volleyball Tournament, a five-day competition that drew 290 teams from Florida and Georgia in to the Ocean Center.
That tournament also offered a boost to hotels near the Ocean Center, including the 744-room Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort, the area’s largest hotel, said Jim Berkley, general manager.
“The Hilton was sold out for Friday and Saturday due to the combination of Rolex 24 and the volleyball event at the Ocean Center,” Berkley said.