Some 14 years ago when Colwen Hotels was first considering putting a hotel in Chelsea, it was all about proximity to the airport.
Now, with the group preparing to open its second hotel – the Towne Place Suites on Marginal Street – on Feb. 16 or 17 and having two more Chelsea hotels in the works, the focus has little to nothing to do with the airport.
“The idea originally started as a hotel for the airport because of the airlines,” said Maureen Foley of Colwen. “As it happened, you had the growth at the Boston Convention Center and international tourism really took off and it all created the perfect storm for us.”
In fact, the focus on Chelsea by Colwen has everything to do nowadays with the hot commodity of the Boston area for conventions and international travel and Chelsea’s close proximity to the engine of the region’s booming economy.
“I think economically people are seeing the growth in Boston and seeing that it’s a booming city and the opportunities are there,” said Foley. “They need more hotel rooms and the time is right economically. We do play into the proximity of Chelsea all the time. We are very close to Boston and in a lot of cases we’re closer to Boston than many parts of Boston. However, having the background on what’s going on in the Boston area really changes how you view this as a whole. It’s not just about another hotel in Chelsea. Boston and the entire area are really booming for conventions and tourism.”
As proof of that, according to Smith Travel Research, Boston’s hotel occupancy rates (which include Chelsea) ranked 7th in the top 25 market areas in 2013. That was behind prime places like New York, Hawaii, Miami Beach, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The occupancy rate for 2013 was around 73 percent.
This year, the 2015 projections for occupancy are way up.
The Pinnacle Group predicts that Boston occupancy rates will be at 80 percent this year, which is up 7 percent from 2013. Meanwhile, the average room cost per night is predicted to be $255.94. Those numbers would be some of the best occupancy rates and room rates for just about any market in the United States.
Meanwhile, the Boston Convention Center in South Boston’s Seaport District is driving the growth in hotels tremendously and many guests in Chelsea’s hotels look to be those heading to the Seaport District.
Foley said she believes that a lot of hotel spillover from the Seaport District does end up in Chelsea, and that will really be true once the Silver Line is completed from the Seaport to the Mystic Mall.
“That will be an absolute game changer,” she said.
As it is now, Boston is 39th on the list of having the most International meetings in a market – meetings that take place at the Boston Convention Center or the Hynes Convention Center.
While 39th sounds like an “iffy” proposition, that worldwide number is higher than Washington, D.C. (43rd), New York City (64th) and Chicago (65th).
The number is also tempered by the fact that the Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau cannot book some of the largest conventions due to the fact that the Greater Boston area doesn’t have enough hotel rooms to handle such things.
Therein lays the drive behind the expansion of hotels in Chelsea – in places like Marginal Street and the upper end of Broadway where one would have never thought a hotel would land.
Foley said it probably doesn’t make sense to the naked eye, but once one understands the business model and the region’s needs that lie behind such decisions, it makes far more sense.
“The Convention and Visitors Bureau cannot host some of the largest conventions because we don’t have enough rooms,” she said. “We can really compete as a convention city if we build more hotel rooms.”
That’s the model for so many hotel companies like Colwen and the Wyndham for expansion.
Colwen will open its Homewood Suites by Hilton across from Chelsea High School in November.
In Cambridge, near the Somerville line, they are set to open a Fairfield Inn & Suites later this year.
The all new Marriott brand, the AC Hotel, is currently under construction by Colwen at Station’s Landing in Medford. Meanwhile, Colwen is planning an Autograph by Marriott hotel for Somerville’s Assembly Row in the near future.
Another Colwen AC Hotel with 200 rooms has been approved for the Ink Block development area in Boston’s South End where the Boston Herald used to operate.
All of the hotels from Colwen are geared to a particular market, though. That market is the Millennial Generation that, demographically speaking, shuns the ritzy confines of a luxury hotel and embraces smaller, less expensive hotels with solid amenities and nice, open lobby/social spaces.
“The Millennials want a less expensive place to stay with limited services and not so much a luxury hotel,” she said. “We think that we’ll see a lot of change towards that. They want their free Wi-Fi. They want to be in a fun area and they want to sit in lobbies and socialize. That’s exactly what we offer.”