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F-M's hospitality sector making robust rebound from pandemic lows

Hotel occupancy, rates and revenues recovering faster than expected, thanks to a return to in-person conventions, sporting events, the Convention and Visitors Bureau reports.

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Charley Johnson, president and CEO of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau (standing center right), works the room Tuesday, March 15, 2022, during the CVB's annual Awards and Appreciation Luncheon held at downtown Fargo's Jasper Hotel.
Helmut Schmidt / The Forum
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FARGO — The Fargo-Moorhead area has seen a major revival of the hospitality and tourism sectors since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with hotel occupancy, rates and revenues recovering faster than expected, according to the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The good news came as part of the CVB’s Annual Awards and Appreciation Luncheon, held Tuesday, March 15, at the Jasper Hotel.

“While last year’s stats made it obvious that the pandemic knocked the hospitality sector for a loop, we can honestly say that the recovery has been dramatic, and came faster than I predicted, faster than a lot of us predicted,” CVB President and CEO Charley Johnson said.

The 5,485 hotel rooms in Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead (down 115 from last year, due to pandemic “market adjustments”) are getting good use again.

Hotel room sales revenues jumped back over the $105 million mark in 2021. Room sales revenues had free-fallen to $62.3 million in 2020. The 2021 revenues were also 2.9% higher than 2019. Room sales revenues continue to remain strong so far in 2022, Johnson said, adding a caution.

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“As we head into spring and summer, I expect that rate of increase to slow, compared to last year’s resurgence, but we hope to continue to see incremental growth as things open up,” he said.

The hotel occupancy rate was 57.9% in calendar year 2021, up dramatically from 2020’s 40.1%, and higher than the 45.9% posted in the last full, pre-pandemic year of 2019.

Demand for rooms had been 31.2% lower in 2020 than 2019, but it rebounded 47.9 percent in 2021, with demand ending up 1.8% higher than in 2019. The resurgence started in June of 2021 and has continued its roll into 2022.

Average room rates were $86.74 in 2021, compared with $74.41 in 2020 and $85.80 in 2019.

Conventions fell off sharply with the onset of the pandemic in 2020, but are rebounding.

The CVB’s convention sales team worked just 36 events in 2020, compared with a normal year of 150 to 190 events. In 2021, that climbed back to 61 - minus 22 events that had been scheduled then called off as COVID-19 varieties caused cases in the region to spike.

Using new metrics to gauge direct spending by visitors for each event, those events brought in about $5.2 million in direct spending by visitors to the area.

“The comeback has been robust,” for sporting events in the metro area, Johnson said.

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In 2021, the CVB’s sports team worked with 104 events, compared with 70 in 2020. That was also three more events than in 2019. About 91% of those events were locally or regionally owned and operated, with direct visitor spending at nearly $26 million.

The CVB also honored several people and organizations for their contributions to making the Fargo-Moorhead area a draw for conventions, sporting events and entertainment.

  • The Tourism Challenge Award went to Jon Walters, owner of Nature of the North, a Moorhead company which brings together climbers and nature enthusiasts.
  • The Pineapple Award was given to The Kilbourne Group and the Fargo Park District for the development of popular downtown attraction Broadway Square, next to the RDO Building.
  • The Industry Excellence Award was given to the 2021 Pioneer Equipment Dealers Association Convention.
  • Two MVP Awards were presented. One went to USA Wrestling, which for more than 25 years has brought its junior and 16 and Under National Championships to Fargo. Last year’s event brought more than 6,000 wrestlers, officials and others to the area.
  • The second MVP Award went to Diamond Academy, which in 2021 hosted the 16 and Under B Northern Nationals, a USA Softball girls fastpitch tournament. The event earned high marks from USA Softball, Johnson said.
  • The North of Normal Award was given to Jade Nielsen, who owns Jade Presents, which manages about 150 music and entertainment events annually at venues throughout the metro area. Nielsen’s firm also provides Jade Presents Arts Partnership Grants to solo musicians and musical groups.
Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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