Punching above its weight
Despite only being the 53rd largest urban area by population in the UK (per the 2011 census), York has always punched above its weight, and it ranked 14th on the Office for National Statistics' (ONS) list of UK cities most visited by international travellers. This included 310,000 overnight visits in 2014 according to VisitBritain - up from 224,000 in 2010. VisitYork estimates that the city attracts around seven million visitors annually, of which 1.5 million stay overnight.
York's heritage status and wealth of visitor attractions have made it a key destination for tourists and business travellers, leading to high levels of occupancy both during the week and at weekends. The comparative strength and diversity of the local economy also drove an 8.5% population increase between 2004 and 2013. At the same time, the historic nature of the city means that there is a shortage of sites suitable for new hotel development.
Of a total hotel room stock of 3,630, according to AM:PM, only 365 have come on-stream since 2010, principally relating to three openings: the Grand Hotel & Spa in 2010, Hampton by Hilton in 2012 and, most recently, Hotel Indigo in July 2015. This comparative shortage of new stock has helped to generate room rate growth well above the UK regional average according to HotStats: 7% for York versus 6.1% for regional UK in the 12 months ending May 2015. 65% of current hotel rooms are branded, with 11 branded limited service hotels alone - and a further new Travelodge scheduled to open in 2016.
As with most UK regional locations, York occupancy exhibits strong seasonality, achieving 80%+ in the peak months of July-October, but falling to below 70% between December and January. It is noticeable that in the period between February and May 2015 York significantly underperformed compared to the regional UK average on occupancy growth (and year on year occupancy falls in each of March, April and May), which has only partially been offset by outperformance on room rate.
This suggests that for some operators a move towards a more occupancy-driven yield management strategy may pay dividends. Additionally, non-room average spend was flat for the 12 months ending May 2014 compared to the previous year, reflecting the high level of dining options available in York and the burgeoning UK casual dining scene.
Christian Mole, executive director, hospitality and leisure, EY
As Britain's best-preserved medieval city, York is a key UK hotel market, benefiting from its position as an important regional business centre and a strong leisure destination. Restrictions on new developments in the city centre and buoyant demand has ensured that average hotel occupancies remain high. Average hotel room occupancy in 2014 was 82.9%, an increase on 2013 of 2.7%. Occupancy rates peaked in September at 92.1%, according to Visit York. Contributing factors for this were the York Annual Food Festival and the York Beer Festival.
The York hotel market showed strong growth in 2014, achieving an 11% revenue per available room increase on 2013. This was mostly rate led, with the market peaking at £89 average rate of return, according to AM:PM.
According to AM:PM Hotels, as of June 2015 there are 81 hotels within York, providing a total of 3,630 rooms. Two-, three- and four-star hotels provide the majority of accommodation, making up 14%, 28% and 26% of the total number of rooms respectively. This includes the recently opened 101-bed Hotel Indigo.
While there are a number of operators seeking to enter the market, the city centre is small and forms a conservation area. These factors, combined with a significant number of listed buildings, restrict the number of potential development sites for which planning permission can be obtained and development costs are viable. This explains why there is only one hotel development planned for 2015 and two for 2016 according to AM:PM. York will therefore continue to be a popular tourist destination and with a limited supply of hotels, the investment market will remain buoyant. Hotels are looking to capitalise on this, with the likes of the five-star Grand hotel (formerly Cedar Court Grand hotel & spa) due to expand after the upgrade was recommended for approval on 15 July 2015.
Tom Cunningham, director, Savills Hotels and Leisure
York hosts an estimated 16,900 business events annually, attended by a million business event visitors spending £148.9m at venues and locally. The city is also one of the UK's most popular short-break destinations with 6.7 million visitors annually, who spend £573m. Tourism in York supports 9,000 jobs.
The city's hotel sector is going from strength to strength with new developments such as Hotel Indigo, which opened in July 2015, a £3m development programme of improvement at the city's Best Western Monkbar hotel, and a proposed £15m extension at the five-star Grand hotel & spa.
Today visitors to York have over 30 world-class museums, galleries and tours to choose from, including the National Railway Museum, York Minster and Jorvik Viking Centre. In May 2015 visits to attractions were 2% higher than for the same period last year.
In May 2014, we saw several record performances, including the highest ever May figures since our surveys began for hotel room occupancy and visits to the big attractions, and the highest footfall recorded on Parliament Street in May since 2009. The year-to-date footfall count for January to May 2015 is 2% above the first five months of 2014.
The exciting news for the coming year is the opening of the new-look York Art Gallery in August, which will now be home to the UK's new Centre of Ceramic Arts. The city also gained UNESCO City of Media Arts designation in 2014.
Kate McMullen, head of consumer products and marketing at Make It York