Originally created 04/08/00

Hotels see increase in numbers



AIKEN -- The Masters Tournament guides were sprawled out on the front-desk counter, and the Golf Channel was glowing from a television in the hotel lounge Friday at Sleep Inn of Aiken.

It was clear Aiken's newest hotel opened just in time to take advantage of the spillover from the high-profile golf tournament in Augusta. On Friday, about 30 percent of the rooms were occupied, mainly because most Masters visitors already had booked accommodations, owner Ronak Jasani said.

But after golf, the Aiken hotel can look forward to area soccer tournaments, softball matches, polo games and horse shows -- all attracting people who need rooms in Aiken.

Sporting events are big business for Aiken's hotels, restaurants and other business, and that's good news for the new 62-room hotel, which opened Wednesday behind Sonic restaurant on Whiskey Road.

On Wednesday, the first night the hotel began taking reservations, Sleep Inn sales director Rebecca Young booked half the rooms for a soccer tournament scheduled at Citizens Park on April 28 and 29.

"Weekends are bigger for leisure guests," Ms. Young said. "Weekdays are more for the corporate side."

As an indication of the boom in tourists and visitors, the city of Aiken took in 25 percent more money in 1999 from hotels, motels and campgrounds than the previous year, which means it is generating more tourism and overnight stays.

Citizens Park, a multipurpose sports complex, has brought tourists to Aiken for softball and soccer tournaments and other sports events. It's such a good money-maker that the city is expanding it, hoping to draw more players, families and fans to Aiken for stays that stretch several days.

That means a need for more hotel rooms.

"I think that the number of motel rooms available in Aiken over the last five years has grown substantially," said Barry Adams, vice chairman of Tourism and Promotions for the Aiken Chamber of Commerce.

But the reasons go beyond sports events, he said. The growth of business and industry in the area is a great way to punch up the occupancy rate, Mr. Adams said.

"Aiken businesses and industries are responsible for a lot of weekday bookings," he said, when employees come for training or examine a company's products.

People looking for a place to retire are also filling the hotels, Mr. Adams said.

"I think we probably underestimate the number of people who visit our city and are considering it as a retirement destination," he said.

The Sleep Inn, part of the chain of Choice International hotels, joins a list of 23 other hotels or bed-and-breakfast locations in Aiken, according to chamber officials. Ten people are employed on the hotel's front desk, 10 will be hired for housekeeping, and Ms. Young is trying to fill other slots on the maintenance crew.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.