Hotel occupancy is down in some top vacation spots, not through lack of visitors, but because more travelers are investing in permanent options such as property and time shares in places they love.
The shift has not yet made a big financial impact on hotels, which are generally charging more for rooms this year, but some big chains are hedging their bets by jumping on the emerging trend themselves.
The pattern goes like this: visit destination; fall in love; buy the real estate, said Peter Yesawich, chief executive of travel advertising agency Yatters.
Hawaii is the vanguard of the time-share revolution. Despite record visitor arrivals, the U.S. vacation hot spot's hotel occupancy fell to 69 percent in May, a 6 percent drop from the same month last year, according to hotel consulting firm Hospitality Advisors LLC.
The Pacific islands' decline in hotel occupancy is partly attributable to the growing popularity of time shares, condominiums and other lodging options for travelers, said Joseph Toy, president of Hospitality Advisors.
The trend is not unique to Hawaii. Hotel occupancy has dipped slightly in other states where there has been a building boom for resort condominiums and time shares -- chiefly Florida and California.
Shared ownership of vacation real estate, commonly known as time sharing, is especially popular. Sales of time-share property alone rose to $10 billion in 2006, up 16 percent from 2005, according to the American Resort Development Association, a trade group representing the time-share industry.
There were 4.4 million time-share owners in the United States last year, up from 4.1 million the year before.
People are also buying more vacation homes than ever before, with vacation property sales reaching 1.07 million units in 2006, according to the National Association of Realtors.
As people invest in property, they generally stop being hotel customers when they vacation, Yesawich said.
But hotels are dealing with the shift, and even benefiting from it. Marriott International Inc., Hilton Hotels Corp. and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. all have time-share businesses.
Their hotel guests are natural time-share buyers, said Scott Berman, leader of PricewaterhouseCoopers' hospitality and leisure consulting practice.
For example, Hilton's time-share business, called Hilton Grand Vacations Co., has built several properties in top vacation destinations, such as Hawaii -- mostly close to existing hotels -- in an attempt to attract customers who want a more permanent vacation arrangement.
Looking to keep customers wherever they vacation, Hilton time-share owners automatically get membership in the hotel chain's HHonors loyalty program.
We're reminding them when they're traveling to different locations to look for Hiltons, said Elena Norman, senior director of communications for Hilton Grand Vacations.
Hotels' occupancy rates are also only one piece of the puzzle. Average daily rates also affect profitability, and daily rates are up in the hotel industry in general.
Even in Hawaii, average daily rates rose to $187.07 in May from $174.90 a year earlier, according to Smith Travel Research.
Daily rates remain high because demand is still relatively strong enough to sustain them, Berman said.
When an industry is going through a boom period, as the U.S. hotel lodging industry has for the past several years, Berman said it's important people keep these declining rates in perspective.
(Occupancy) declines between zero and 5 percent and media goes crazy, yet when we look back in 2001 and 2002 occupancies were down in 50s, he said.