Data: DE Turf boosts local hotel industry

FREDERICA — Hotel room rentals were up each month DE Turf Sports Complex in Frederica held a tournament this year, according to data collected by Kent County Tourism.

In April, rentals were up 4 percent, and in June and July up 2.6 and 2.1 percent, respectively.

Although it’s difficult to attribute the boost entirely to DE Turf it’s clear that more hotel rooms are being rented locally because of the tournaments, said Kent County Tourism executive director Wendie Vestfall.

“June is a hard month to attribute anything specific because of NASCAR and Firefly Music Festival already driving a lot of business,” she said. “July and April’s boost are a little more clearly attributed to DE Turf, though. There’s no doubt their tournaments have helped.”

Kent County Tourism’s recently launched marketing campaign will likely provide more detailed information sometime next year when results from a “conversion” study are released, she added.

“The campaign we launched last year with our marketing agency was guaranteed to add $12.3 million of economic impact to the county, so the agency is completing a study that will survey visitors to find out more specific information like where they came from, why they came and what they did while they were here,” said Ms. Vestfall.

According to Victor Schimp, sales director of Home2 Suites by Hilton in Dover, another true test of the impact DE Turf is having will come in autun when hotel room rentals ordinarily dip in the county.

“There are tournaments being booked in October, November, March and April which are considered shoulder months (late spring, early fall),” said Mr. Schimp. “That’s going to be really good for local hoteliers and businesses who would normally have less going on then.”

Even though DE Turf is still in its infancy, launching its first large tournament over Easter weekend, Mr. Schimp said the relationship between the sports complex and local business owners has been a productive one.

“It’s been really good for business and the lodging community in Dover and Kent County,” he said. “We’re seeing more sports teams and their families come to the area which is a new demographic for us. There are a lot of people visiting our area and spending money that might not have come to Kent County otherwise.”

DE Turf executive director Chris Giacomucci said he’s heard encouraging feedback from both the local business community and visitors. He expects the economic impact of the sports complex to keep increasing.

“We’ve received very positive feedback from the local business community including hotels in terms of the volume of traffic they are seeing coming through their doors on tournament weekends,” said Mr. Giacomucci. “We’re looking forward to a great fall season and an even better 2018. So far we have 25 tournaments booked and counting for next year.”

According to DE Turf backers in May 2016, when ground was broken on the project, a feasibility study estimated the facility will have an economic impact on the region of $18 million annually after 10 years of operation.

The building of the $24 million facility was made possible in part by a public/private partnership between Kent County Levy Court and the sports complex whereby the 85-acre county-owned land plot it sits on was rented for $1 per year for 60 years.

The construction was also supported by a $3.2 million grant from Delaware’s infrastructure fund that primarily was secured by state Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover.

Earlier this month, the county agreed to rent an addition 3.5 acres of adjacent land to DE Turf for overflow parking and a “hospitality center.”

Booking policy

When tournament goers attend events at DE Turf, they are required to set up their accommodations through the sports complex’s booking contractor, HBC Event Services, rather than arranging their own. Mr. Giacomucci said this is to simplify the process and keep it organized. He claims that the majority of attendees end up staying in hotels in Milford and Dover.

Before DE Turf opened, Kent County Tourism and the Chamber of Commerce orchestrated several meet-and-greets between county business owners and DE Turf management to cultivate working relationships.

“Back in January and February, before their first tournament in April, we held two sessions for hotel owners to give them some background on DE Turf to instruct them on how to go about the bidding process for hotel rooms. We did the same for retail and restaurants so they could get familiar with the new crowd of people coming through and find out what they expected.”

Once a tournament is booked, a request for proposals (RFP) is released by DE Turf to line up local blocks of hotel rooms to be on offer during the event, said Mr. Schimp.

“When a tournament comes in, we fill out an RFP and send it in and move forward based on that agreement,” he added.

Ms. Vestfall said the opportunity is offered to all hotels in the region, if they respond to the RFP.

“It’s up to them if they want to bid on the business,” she said. “I believe the contracts have certain terms like the room rate they have to meet, how many rooms must be available and other things they may require hotels to do for groups. Then there is an Online platform that visitor log into while they’re signing up for events that will show them all the locally available hotel rooms.”

As far as Kent County Tourism is concerned, the booking process is “fair” to Kent County hoteliers, said Ms. Vestfall.

Although unaware of the specifics of DE Turf’s hotel booking procedure, Levy Court Commissioner Eric Buckson, who represents the district the complex is in, said that as long as the process remains “competitively fair” to all local businesses, he sees no problem with it.

“Our hope is that DE Turf is going to have a positive effect for local businesses — it’s early still, but it looks like that’s what it’s doing,” said Mr. Buckson. “We knew from the start that some business would go north of the complex and some would go south, but as long as the process is fair, everyone is coming out ahead.”

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