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Seaport’s new stock of hotels finally has the guests to fill them

The full-fledged return of the convention center, coupled with the long-lasting boom in leisure travel, has helped keep the 1,700-plus new rooms in the Seaport occupied.

Patrons crowded the lobby bar at the Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport last month.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

It was happy hour on a recent Friday, and there was nary a barstool to be found in the lobby of the Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport. A cardiovascular conference had taken over the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center across the street for the weekend, and the 1,000-plus room Omni — one of three hotels to open in the Seaport since the pandemic — was almost completely booked.

This was what the people who run the Omni envisioned when they broke ground on the massive hotel in 2018, and what they hoped for when they opened a little more than a year ago. Now it’s finally happening.

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Crowds at events like January’s Yankee Dental Congress and the Seafood Expo North America in March were smaller than usual. But a slate of summer events, groups traveling for in-house meetings, and a sustained boom in leisure travel ushered in a “crazy busy” season, said managing director Michael Jorgensen.

“It was dribs and drabs,” said Jorgensen. “But then once Mayor Wu lifted the restrictions, it was back to the races again.”

The Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport, framed by the Convention Center. Lane Turner/Globe Staff

This recovery for the Omni and other Seaport hotels comes as their ranks swell. The number of hotel rooms in the Seaport jumped 60 percent in three years, from 2,800 in July of 2019 to 4,500 today, according to consulting firm Pinnacle Advisory Group. Most are in the Omni, but a 416-room Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites and a 297-room Hyatt Place have opened, too.

“Not only are we trying to get back to 2019 numbers, but we have a lot more rooms to fill,” said Sebastian Colella, vice president at Pinnacle. “No one is back to pre-pandemic levels, but by all accounts, and where things stand in the recovery, the Seaport has done fantastic.”

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To be sure, the Seaport hotel’s recovery still lags behind other parts of the city that rely less on business travel, and while rates have bounced back, occupancy has trailed behind. Hotels in Back Bay, for instance, are closer to pre-pandemic levels of RevPAR — or revenue per available room, a key hotel industry metric. Fenway has actually surpassed its 2019 numbers, up 3 percent. The Seaport, by contrast, remains 17 percent below 2019 levels, its RevPAR dampened both by lagging corporate travel and the huge influx of new supply.

Still, demand is strong in the Seaport, up by about one-third from the same time in 2019, according to Pinnacle. You can thank the full-fledged return of events at the convention center for that.

Officials at the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority said last week that the 12 months ending June 30 was their most successful fiscal year in history, with more than 365,000 hotel room stays booked for attendees at the state’s three convention centers. A “full recovery” is expected by 2023, said executive director David Gibbons, a far cry from the months in 2020 when the BCEC functioned as a field hospital.

Before the pandemic, it could be hard to find rooms close to the mammoth venue. Sell-out nights in the Seaport would push guests to other neighborhoods. Now, convention-goers can stay close by.

“The convention center has done an amazing job putting business on the books for us this year,” said Marianna Accomando, the general manager at the Seaport Hotel. She added the hotel is seeing occupancy levels in the 80-percent-range, “and that is consistent with pre-pandemic” levels.

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Still, Accomando, whose hotel has been open since 1998, acknowledged some concern when the new hotels opened in the thick of a pandemic that had clobbered the hospitality industry that the newfound competition might mean too few guests to go around.

“You’re always a little worried, but I like to think that the rising tide floats all boats,” said Accomando. “It helps the district. It gives people a choice in the area, and it’s allowed us all to do well.”

At the Yotel Boston, a micro hotel that opened in 2017, general manager Trish Berry said recovery has been much swifter than she expected, even with the surge in nearby supply.

“Obviously, getting 2,000 more rooms in the neighborhood is always a challenge for all of us. But competition is always great, too. It makes us better,” she said. “The convention center is going to have a great 2023 and 2024, so I think there’s enough business for all of us.”

Boston software company HubSpot held its annual "Inbound" conference in person again last month.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

And leisure travel is no small part of the Seaport’s recovery. At the Hyatt Place, which opened in September of 2020, general manager Marcos Piteira said that “this summer was pretty much all leisure.” Even at the Omni, about half their business is people coming for play rather than work, Jorgensen said.

Charlie York, the general manager at the Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites by Hilton, which opened last April, said this summer saw “a lot of New England local travel,” as well as overnight stays from cruise travelers. The hotel has now been “nearly sold out” for the last two to three months, he said.

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“No complaints here, let me tell you,” he said.

The increase in leisure business also reflects the neighborhood’s changing reputation, with its new outdoor spaces and retail attractions, said Colella.

“It’s one of Boston’s primary commercial neighborhoods, but now when you look at it, there’s a plethora of amenities which really help it not just be a weekday destination,” he said.

Looking forward, as corporate and group travel continue to recover, Colella sees the Seaport continuing its upward trajectory. Barring another COVID-related wipeout, conventions will continue to ramp up, with more than a dozen major events on the books for 2023. Though leisure travel will inevitably slow as the pent-up demand eases, Colella said, more corporate offices are moving to the neighborhood, like Amazon, and they will generate hotel demand too.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster,” said Accomando. “Our fingers are crossed the momentum keeps up.”


Dana Gerber can be reached at dana.gerber@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @danagerber6.