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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Nashua has a large number of hotel rooms – and more coming

Let’s be honest: Nashua is hardly a prime tourist destination – not in a state with the Lakes Region, Seacoast and White Mountains.

So why does it have so many hotel rooms? ...

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Let’s be honest: Nashua is hardly a prime tourist destination – not in a state with the Lakes Region, Seacoast and White Mountains.

So why does it have so many hotel rooms?

In particular, why does it have so many hotel rooms crammed into an area not a whole lot bigger than the Pheasant Lane Mall parking lot?

Consider:

Residence Inn is building 118 suites in Trafalgar Square, part of the bustling business area west of the Everett Turnpike between exits 7 and 8, bordered by the Somerset Parkway.

When it is finished this fall, the hotel, which specializes in the “extended stay” market rather than one-night visitors, will directly compete with the Extended Stay America, which has 101 studio rooms a short jog away, just off Southwood Drive.

It will also compete with the adjacent Crowne Plaza Hotel, which has 178 rooms and 19 extended-stay suites, and two hotels in the same area that are only slightly more than a stone’s throw away: the Courtyard, with 241 rooms and four suites, and Hampton Inn on Amherst Street, a relative newcomer – it opened in 2009 – with 102 rooms.

That’s 763 hotel rooms of various sizes, shapes and amenities from different companies, all in one small part of Nashua.

Isn’t that overkill?

“I’m often asked what the rule of thumb is for the number of rooms in a market,” said Mike Somers, president of the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association. “But there is no rule of thumb – the market will dictate.”

Somers added that the Residence Inn, which is part of the Marriott hotel brand, knows this, too.

“My guess is they’ve already done their homework before they decided to build,” he said.

Maura Peeler, area general manager for True North Hotel Group, which runs the Residence Inn, said the company was confident that there was more than enough business to go around, particularly with the power of loyalty programs under the Marriott brand. And since the Residence Inn in Merrimack changed brands last year, the nameplate doesn’t have a presence in the region.

Still, this adds up to a lot of hotel rooms, especially since they don’t include Nashua’s biggest and most visible hotel – the 333-room “castle” of the Radisson Nashua – nor its Holiday Inn (199 rooms), Motel 6 (80 rooms) or Fireside Inn (100 rooms), not to mention the city’s two independent motels, Lillian’s and the Country Barn, and the occasional bed and breakfast.

Altogether, that’s more than 1,500 hotel rooms. And it doesn’t even include the tiny but growing business of people renting out rooms via sites such as Airbnb.com, which as of Friday listed eight rooms in private Nashua homes.

Why so many?

For one thing, Nashua isn’t entirely overlooked by tourists.

Tai Freligh, spokesman for the state’s Division of Travel and Tourism Development, pointed to SkyVenture New Hampshire, the indoor skydiving and surfing facility on Daniel Webster Highway, as a draw from long distances. And while shopping is generally a day trip, some people do stay over.

For another, it’s a reflection of Nashua’s location, roughly equidistant from Fenway Park, ocean or lake beaches, Mount Monadnock and the Kancamagus Highway. Nashua didn’t get that “gateway” nickname for nothing.

“The really interesting thing about the Nashua market is it’s almost like a base of operations kind of thing,” Somers said. “People stay in Nashua, drive into Boston to do stuff there, then up into New Hampshire, the lakes, the ocean.”

Then, of course, there’s business travel. In the statewide lodging picture, business is overwhelmed by tourism, but in Nashua, it’s different.

Greater Nashua has the strongest economy of any part of New Hampshire in the sort of large manufacturing industries that are more likely to bring in consultants, specialists or teams from other parts of the company’s global presence – those business jets in hangars at the Nashua Airport aren’t playthings –
and that fuels a need for hotels that cater to business travelers, with business centers for meetings, high-end Internet, fitness centers and the like.

“They are an important piece for the hoteliers,” Somers said.“They are year-round, relatively consistent, often have repeat business.”

That explains yet another addition to city hotels: the 105-room Homewood Suites on Tara Boulevard, and possibly another extended-stay hotel that may be built nearby.

These are inside the huge Gateway Hills development off Spit Brook Road, which is built around hundreds of thousands of square feet of industrial space, including the old Digital Equipment Corp. building. They will exist almost exclusively for business travelers.

Finally, the existence of many medium-size or smaller hotels in and near Trafalgar Square, as compared with a smaller number of larger hotels sich as the castle Radisson, is also part of a trend in the industry.

“I do think that there is a trend, especially at national chains, that they are trying to appeal to a segment of the population,” Somers said. “You’ll see that some properties are going to go for the luxury section, others for the economy business traveler.

“Once upon a time, you put up a huge box building and people would come and stay if they need accommodations. Not anymore.”

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).