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River Falls hotels compete with each other, economy

February 19, 2010

The lodging industry in River Falls seems to be continually changing with businesses opening, going up for sale and changing ownership.

The Best Western Hotel and Suites, the newest lodging establishment in town, opened in River Falls on July 3, 2009, Dustin Hanson, the hotel manager, said. However, the hotel business is a little “softer” than they would like to see, he said.

“We believe for a new hotel, in a small town, we are holding our own,” Hanson said. UWRF built a new green University Center which was completed in 2007, and the Best Western wants to continue this trend.

“The theme of the town is green and we are certainly working to go along with that,” said Andrew Dyb, general manager of the Best Western Hotel and Suites in a press release posted on BestWesternRiverFalls.com.

Hanson explained that Anytime Fitness, the 24- hour work out center that is a part of the building, is doing well and there are a large number of members enrolled. Students Tiffany Pirius and Aaron Smith are both members at Anytime Fitness.

“I have been working out here since September,” Pirius said. “I used to work on at the University.” Smith didn’t work out anywhere else before coming to Anytime Fitness.

There are currently six other lodging options in and around town that are working to compete with the new Best Western. These hotels are: The Kinni Creek Lodge and Outfitters, The Servant Quarters, Highland Inn, America’s Best Value Inn, River Falls Motel and Crossings by Grandstay Inn and Suites.

River Falls Motel and America’s Best Value Inn are both under the same ownership. America’s Best Value Inn was previously a Best Western, but changed names three years ago according to Rita Bhakta, the hotel’s manager. They have experienced a decrease in customers over the past few years due to the economy, Bhakta said.

“People are spending less now,” Bhakta said. “We have nice and clean rooms out here [but] people are now becoming aware of their expenses.”

She explained that they are competing with the other hotels, but the Best Western isn’t affecting them very much. The reason, she explained, is because America’s Best Value Inn does not have a pool and the Best Western does, so they are not in the same exact area of competition.

“Mainly because this is a college town, we do have parents coming in for that,” Bhakta said.

She explained that they also have discounts for college students, and if there is an event at the University, they work out a cheaper rate with customers.

The River Falls Motel is currently up for sale, but still in business, Bhakta said.

The Servant Quarters Bed and Breakfast is located five miles outside of town, and offers some features that the other hotels in town do not. According to The Servant Quarters Bed and Breakfast brochure, they offer a “peaceful, renewing stay” on six wooded acres that has walking paths through the woods.

Debra Overbye, the owner of The Servant Quarters, explained that she doesn’t have a lot of business, but recently added a conference room and is starting to do more marketing.

“Anyone I do business with, I’m going to let them know about what I have,” Overbye said. The Servant Quarters offers wireless internet, and all guests are welcome to use the kitchen. Overbye said that her bed and breakfast is perfect for family reunions, weddings, couples retreats and many other things.

“I want to enhance and serve my guests enthusiastically,” Overbye said.

She leaves it up to the guests to decide if they want her to make them breakfast in the morning, or if they would rather not see her throughout their stay and have the place completely to themselves.

Another aspect that The Servant Quarters offers that other hotels in town do not is that they have a Ham radio room below the four-season porch. Overbye also has a printer and fax machine that guests are welcome to use. The Servant Quarters has been open since September 2007, and Overbye has continually been trying to draw in more customers.

“I’ve had about the same amount of business in the 2008 and 2009 calendar year,” Overbye said. When asked about the new Best Western, she explained that she is constantly competing with them.

“I’d like to have all of their people stay here,” Overbye said.

She said she hopes the conference room will help draw in more people for different types of events. In order to set themselves apart from other hotels and lodges in River Falls, the Kinni Creek Lodge and Outfitters offers kayak rentals to their guests and to the public, explained Paige Olson, the owner of Kinni Creek.

“We offer one-on-one personal hospitality to each of our guests and they become friends of mine and my husband,” said Olson.

They offer three guest rooms that can sleep seven people each, and there is a pull out couch for the cabin that can fit two more people.

Kinni Creek has been open since 2000, and since then has seen a decrease in customers, explained Olson.

She attributes the decrease to the “lodging tax.”

“Our customers pay a 10.5 percent total tax where other retail and restaurant customers only pay a 5.5 percent total tax,” Olson said.

In order to compete with the opening of the Best Western, Olson continues to offer a “Total Vacation Rental,” which includes a fully furnished kitchen and an outdoor gas grill.

“It is popular with UW parents as their cabin at their kids’ college, [and it’s a] nice alternative to a standard hotel room,” Olson said.

The seven hotels and lodges in and around River Falls are all competing with each other and continue to do what they can to attract new customers. According to many owners and managers of the hotels and lodges, the economy is affecting them more than the addition of the new Best Western.