Summer is suddenly peak season at Boise hotels — but not because of a boom in tourists

New hotels enhance Downtown Boise

Aimee Tylor, manager of the new Residence Inn, explains how workers looking for an extended-stay hotel will be among her guests.
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Aimee Tylor, manager of the new Residence Inn, explains how workers looking for an extended-stay hotel will be among her guests.

Hotels keep opening in the Boise area, and their rates keep rising. They’re booming, especially Downtown, and especially in summer. But don’t thank (or blame) tourists.

Blame yourself, or at least some of your Treasure Valley neighbors. And blame those business travelers who want to be like you, because they want to live here.

Local hotels are bringing in more revenue than ever before. And summer, which used to be a middling to weak time for Boise hotel-room rentals, has become the peak season.

The good times are reflected in revenue the Greater Boise Auditorium District collects from its 5 percent tax on hotel rooms from Boise, Garden City, and part of Meridian and Eagle as far west as Eagle Road. GBAD collected $7,660,000 in 2018, more than twice the $3,427,000 collected in 2009.

The biggest gains have come in summer. In 2009, February was the most popular month, thanks to business travelers. In 2018, June was, with August a close second.

And it’s not because Boise has been discovered on all those Top 10 lists.

“Publicity has definitely helped create a better awareness of Boise than we had before, but when we go across the U.S. — even in Chicago, and Washington, D.C., and New York City — it’s still an educational process,” said Carrie Westergard, executive director of the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau, in an interview.

What is more likely is that the growth of Downtown hotels and changes in visitation behavior among hotel guests are causing the summer spike.

A changing Boise hotel market

Since 1987, the number of available rooms in Boise has nearly doubled. Since 2012, nine hotels have opened., including four Downtown (the Inn at 500 Capitol, Hyatt Place, Residence Inn and Hilton Garden Inn), with a fifth (Home2Suites) on the way.

The demand has more than kept up with the increased supply, so occupancy rates have steadily grown.

Summer has always been a big time for events that bring more people looking for a place to stay in the area. In June, the Far West Soccer tournament brought more than 10,000 people to Boise for longer than a week. The X-Games and several sports tournaments also came through town. In July, the Twilight Criterium and other events drew visitors. In August, the Albertsons Boise Open and the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic are expected to have people looking for rooms.

Previously, people who wanted to stay in Downtown Boise but couldn’t would stay farther away.

“There was a pent-up demand,” said Pat Rice, executive director of the Boise Centre, in an interview. “People were staying in Meridian, Nampa and Caldwell, but they wanted to stay here and particularly Downtown. ... So when the new supply opened, all these people said ‘Great,’ and they were willing to pay the rate.”

Rice said many of the most recent hotels opened at full market rate, which he said is unheard of. He also said the rates continue to go up. STR, a hotel industry data firm, reports that the average daily room rate in Boise in June was $125.52, about $11 higher than in June 2018.

A standard double queen room at the Inn at 500, 500 S. Capitol Blvd., for the night of Saturday, Aug. 31, on Labor Day weekend, would cost $199. At the Courtyard Boise Downtown, 222 S. Broadway Ave., the same type of room would be $144. A room at La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Boise Towne Square, 7965 W. Emerald St., would be $115.

Increased “staycations” and “bleisure”

Many travelers are tacking personal days onto their business trips. And local residents are treating themselves to a staycations.

Westergard said more people are extending business trips to take advantage of going to a new place. “Bleisure” (pronounced blee-zhur) trips are becoming more common as people are getting less leisure time.

“People are time deprived, and they’re not taking as many vacations,” she said. “When they are going to a new place, or maybe they’ve been before, they want to extend their trip.”

Steve Steading, general manager of The Grove Hotel, 245 S. Capitol Blvd., said the hotel sees many business travelers, some of whom stay longer to take advantage of Boise’s outdoor recreation.

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The Sandbar Patio Bar & Grill, part of the Riverside Hotel, is one of the popular outdoor attractions along the Boise River between 33rd and 36th streets in Garden City. Darin Oswald Statesman file

Meanwhile, staycationers are patronizing The Riverside Hotel, 2900 W. Chinden Blvd., upstream from Boise’s Whitewater Park. The Riverside is trying to create the feeling of a resort for staycationers.

“In the summer, it’s a perfect place for locals to come for staycations,” General Manager Kathy Pidgeon said in an interview. “There’s just a lot to do here in the summer, so we’ve really noticed a spike in leisure travelers throughout this summer.”

A different Downtown Boise

The Grove’s Steading said the changes in Downtown itself have led to an increase in stays, too. Twenty years ago, Downtown did not have the buzz it has now, he said.

“It was a financial, banking, governmental Downtown,” he said in an interview. “It shut down at 5 at night. There was a mass exit out west.”

Now, Downtown has a growing restaurant scene, many cultural attractions and nightlife. He said people from out of town are able to see Downtown Boise as a destination, and locals consider staying Downtown for special events more often.

“Whether it’s locals or hotel guests, they want to come Downtown,” Steading said. “Whether it’s for a dining event, whether it’s for a concert, or maybe there’s an art gallery showing of a particular artist series.”

Checking the area out

Both Pidgeon and Steading say they have seen an increase in another type of guest: people staying at hotels while they look to move to Boise.

At The Riverside, Pidgeon said most guests are from Idaho, but California is a close second. She sees guests looking for houses and exploring the area.

Said Steading: “There’s increasingly more of our guests who are telling us that they’re here because they’re site selecting for a potential relocation, … and they fall in love with the area.”

Business Editor David Staats contributed.