ORLANDO, Fla. - It's been a seemingly endless summer of setbacks for the Days Inn by Wyndham Orlando on International Drive.
Business slowed first when Universal Studios in June debuted its first-ever "value" hotel property east of Interstate 4, the 750-room Surfside Inn & Suites, next door.
Then, as Hurricane Dorian barreled toward Central Florida, a rush of cancellations came just before the usually fruitful Labor Day weekend. Eventually, the hurricane veered off farther into the Atlantic Ocean.
Now, General Manager Amjid Akram fears losing more business to Universal, which is opening an even larger I-Drive hotel in the spring.
"A lot of people will stay in that hotel, unless they are on a limited budget," said Akram, whose hotel has 256 rooms. "I'm definitely a little nervous."
Universal and other hotel builders are coming on strong with new properties on the tourist strip, leaving smaller hotels in a bind.
It's happening more quickly on the north side of I-Drive, where Universal's behemoth, 2,050-room Dockside Inn & Suites is scheduled to open in March to complete the company's Endless Summer Resort.
That comes on the heels of Surfside and the 600-room Aventura Hotel, which opened across Interstate 4 last year.
The smaller hotels may have to offer more amenities, such as room discounts and bundles for theme park visits, said Michael Terry, associate professor at UCF's Rosen School of Hospitality.
The I-Drive corridor is home to more than 100 hotels, with the majority being smaller businesses with fewer than 300 rooms.
Dockside will become the second-largest hotel in the I-Drive region, behind Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
Hotels are competing harder for a dwindling number of potential guests, said Les Harris, general manager of the 133-room Homewood Suites by Hilton Orlando Theme Parks on the southern part of I-Drive.
"By November (2020), I'll have 2,000 more rooms within a half-mile of me," he said. "It's difficult."
And it's not just Universal getting into the act.
By January 2021, the International Drive area near the convention center will see another 1,151 rooms open, on top of the 2,050 expected at Dockside.
The new properties are being built by high-profile companies such as Aloft, Hilton, Holiday Inn and others.
"You will lose some business because families are going to want to go (to Dockside)," Harris said. "It's sort of a waiting game. You have to see how people react. But, in the end, you can feed off big brother, if you're strategic."
The competition on the International Drive corridor represents a smaller version of what has been happening in other areas of Orlando.
Existing hotels have to regularly evolve, add new amenities and renovate to keep up in one of the biggest markets in the world, one which is home to 129,000 hotel rooms.
"In this industry, you have to be constantly reinventing yourself in a number of areas," Visit Orlando CEO George Aguel said. "Even classic hotels have to evolve. The demand and competition mandate that."
When hotels first started offering wifi, for instance, it would come at a cost.
However, once one hotel decided to offer it for free, others had to follow suit.
"Competition is the mother of all invention," Aguel said.
Once completed, the Endless Summer Resort will encompass 6 percent of the available hotel rooms in the I-Drive corridor, as defined by Visit Orlando research.
For its neighbors, however, it's going to represent a new property to keep an eye on.
"We are not in direct competition," Akram said. "Their rates are much higher. But it's going to hurt a little bit because that's a huge hotel, and if someone wants to upgrade, they might want to check out the new hotel. It will definitely impact us."
Information from: Orlando Sentinel, http://www.orlandosentinel.com/