When the new Renaissance Hotel opens in Bricktown July 21, the total number of hotel rooms in the central business district will be 4,580, according to Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau president Zac Craig. In July 2018, there were just over 3,000 rooms available, and then OKC Chamber president Mike Carrier said that there were more than 2,300 rooms in some phase of development. At the time, Carrier projected 5,500 rooms for the urban core by 2021.
And then came 2020.
“Pre-pandemic there were a lot of hotels on the docket, and many of those got pulled,” said Roy Williams, the president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. “But now hotels are back on the drawing board, and we just learned that revenue from the hotel tax is above pre-pandemic numbers.”
While the projections didn’t hit the 5,500 Carrier expected in those heady, naive days before COVID, the bounce back in the hotel industry has only been limited by staffing in recent months.
“Right now leisure travel is driving our hotel business,” Williams said. “The split is 75/25 leisure over business right now, but business travel is showing signs of coming back too.”
Business travel is more reliant on the airline industry, and the well-publicized woes there have certainly slowed the growth in business travelers staying in local hotels. That growth also affects the convention center, and Williams said the numbers there are promising.
“The numbers look good,” he said. “We’re not where we want to be yet, but corporate conferences and conventions are returning to the in-person model. Occupancy at the Omni has been strong, and the National just came online and they’re already ahead of projections.”
Williams pointed out how the hospitality industry had to develop new processes and service models during and after the pandemic. Rather than full service in the room every day, hotels are asking guests to request towels, room cleaning and other amenities on an as-needed basis. That flexible approach has made it possible for hotels to continue to deliver good service even in the current staffing crisis.
Jeff Dixon, owner and founder of Provision Concepts (Broadway 10, Hatch, Sidecar, etc.), is partnering with Tulsa-based Anish Hotels Group to deliver food service to the Bricktown Renaissance Hotel. Dixon said getting fully staffed has been a challenge, but they anticipate being ready when the hotel opens July 21.
“We’ll be providing three services a day at Culprits, just like any hotel restaurant would, and we’re also providing room service,” Dixon said.
It’s an unusual arrangement in which Dixon functions much like a consulting partner, but the move frees Anish Hotels Group from having to fully staff a restaurant and room service staff in addition to regular hotel employees. As flexible models go, it’s a smart way to navigate a difficult moment in hospitality, and partnering with Arizona chef and James Beard Award finalist James Fox to consult on the Culprits menu will only increase the hotel’s profile among the city’s adventurous eaters, attracting an important additional revenue stream.
Not exactly in the urban core, but close enough to be convenient, the Okana Resort at the First Americans Museum will add 404 rooms when it opens. Mark Beffort’s Innovation District hotel Thrive — it will be a soft brand — will add another 100 rooms as well. The National now adds 149 rooms to go with Omni’s 605, meaning OKC has and will be adding 1,200 rooms post-pandemic with more to come.
“Compared to where we were two years ago, there’s a lot of optimism around the hotel industry right now,” Williams said.