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Hamptons Hotel and Motel Industry Looks to Bounce Back

Hit hard by the recession, local hospitality businesses anticipate calmer waters.

The hospitality industry in Hampton Bays and Westhampton Beach, previously debilitated by the recession and a community in flux, is seeking to build on promising numbers in 2010 that may signal a light at the end of the tunnel.

Yet while among several lodgings tourist activity seems to mirror that of last year, not all hotel owners anticipate a return to the pre-recession climate. Some local hotel operators believe the industry is experiencing the aftershock of the recession, and fear the unique makeup of this community may not be strong enough to combat it.

"2009 was horrible…our worst season," Penelope Jayaswal, owner and manager of in Hampton Bays, said. "It's not like it used to be. But I'm hopeful, we're all hopeful."

Jayaswal, who has owned the motel for three decades, attributes struggles in recent years to the recession limiting the number of vacationers. As perilous, however, is the strong decrease in the average length of stay. Before the recession hit, guests would book packages for an average of five days, sometimes longer, she said; now that number has decreased to one or two nights.

Jayaswal partially blames the housing crisis. She claims that overbuilding in the years leading up to the recession has led to unoccupied homes, in other times sold or rented for an extended time, which are now rented for a month, a long weekend, or shorter.

"They don't have the liability we have," Jayaswal said, referring to the rented homes. "They don't have insurance payments…permits, health inspections, pool regulations, whatever else we have to pay to be in the hotel business."

Cheffe Collette, co-owner of in Hampton Bays since 2004, agrees a majority of tourists no longer wish to book extended stays. Further, there seems to be an identity shift among hotels that, while likely beneficial in the long-run, limits the number of patrons in the short term.

"We had to battle and change our clientele…actively discouraging the club kids," Cheffe Collette said. "We would rather have an empty room than 15 underage drinkers crammed into one room. The clubbers were just looking for a place to sleep."

It is a proactive business decision that is perhaps reactive to a changing community.

"I've been out here 20 years…Hampton Bays used to attract a number of partiers, the 20 to 40 group," Kevin Bowen, owner of in Hampton Bays, said. "That's over, that's done. I would get [about] 10 or 15 percent…associated with that type of stuff."

Despite a smaller client-base, the Inn Spot has managed to keep revenue relatively stable since the end of the downturn, a success Cheffe Collette attributes to going against the tradition of closing down in the winter.

Bowen notes in addition to a dwindling "partying" scene, the community is seeing far less corporate events and galas that in the past would bring short-term guests from across the tri-state area. In the end, however, the simplest explanation may be the bleakest.

"Why would you come out here?" Bowen said. "It's not cheap to come out here. You come out for a day, even at my place it's a lot of money. HOw many people like that are around right now?"

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