It’s a good time to be in the lodging business, Terry owners report

 By Kay Braddock

Local lodging businesses are enjoying increased capacity rates. Both the Diamond Motel and Kempton Hotel, each located along Terry’s main drag — Spring Street — and the Small Town RV Park report guest numbers have remained robust this year. 
But business owners say the increased numbers have less to do with the Bakken Oil Boom and more to do with the service they provide.
It’s in the ‘welcoming details,’ explained Manard Criswell, owner of Small Towne RV Park. “They see the difference. They feel like they’re welcome.”
He and his wife Myra have owned the 8-unit RV park for the past 11 years. After moving to Terry from Loveland, Colo., Manard began renovating the park in Dec. of 2000. There was plenty of work to be done to the RV park, which had sat empty and unused 12 years prior. 
The reaction he received from some locals who heard he was opening another RV park in Terry was less than favorable. They thought I was “totally nuts” Manard shared candidly. “’Why would you want to do something like that?’” He recalled questions of those kinds being posed to him on several occasions. At that time Terry already had two RV parks in operation. 
Soon Myra followed her husband to Terry, after retiring from Kodak, in pursuit of the couple’s retirement dream to own a business where they could meet people from across the nation. Small Towne RV Park was ready to begin welcoming customers in the spring of 2011. In the beginning business was sporadic.
“All I got were construction people, and that was it,” Manard said. 
Pointing to good location neighboring I-94 and easy pull-through access for larger motorhomes, Manard said it wasn’t long before business increased. 
“We’re getting more and more repeats,” Myra said, referring to returning customers. 
The couple said their business caters less to group workers, whether employed in construction or oil field. Rather their focus is on travelers driving along I-94.
“We get lots and lots of agate hunters,” Myra said. 
Some customers will stay from anywhere to a week to as long as a month, as they tour the historic and natural sites in the surrounding area. 
Kempton Hotel owner Russ Schwartz said the historic 26-room hotel has seen a 133 percent increase in occupancy rates from last year. A big boost to his business stems from the full capacity rates running in lodging businesses in Miles City and Glendive, Schwartz said.
Over the summer a construction crew resurfacing a portion of highway near Glendive rented 25 beds for three months at the Kempton. They chose to travel the nearly 80-mile round trip daily to stay in Terry because Glendive’s lodging businesses were full, Schwartz said. They also chose the Kempton because of the service they received. Chief among those advantages was the uninterrupted service offered at the Kempton. Rather than being bounced around from one room to another to accommodate their extended stay, the Kempton Hotel was able to arrange consistent rooms for the three months.
Although the oil boom’s increased traffic along I-94 definitely plays a roll in improved guest numbers, Schwartz also points to the renovations he and his wife Linda have made recently to make the hotel more appealing. 
Services offered at the Kempton combined with the nicer rooms have led to repeat customers, Schwartz said.
“You wake up in the Kempton, you know you are in the Kempton,” he said, noting the Kempton’s unique style doesn’t parallel the common cookie-cutter styles offered by the bigger chains. 
Occupancy numbers at the Terry RV Oasis are down this year, Schwartz said. He believes it’s a common trend. 
“The RV business across Montana is down 60 to 70 percent,” Schwartz said, pointing to data retrieved from Woodalls Campground Management, which has a membership of over 100,000 throughout the country.
He points to the nation’s economy and gas prices as the primary factors behind the decrease in RV guests. To offset the loss in RV numbers, Schwartz is considering adding eight portable “plug and play” cabins to his RV park by mid-summer.
The no vacancy neon light hanging from the window of the Diamond Motel has become a common sight in recent months. Since taking over the business earlier this year, Oledia Hansen said occupancy rates have remained steady. In the last couple of months the motel has enjoyed a full number of occupied rooms. 
“It’s a mixture of hunters and oil field workers,” Hansen said.  
Anticipating lodging demands will continue, Hansen intends to open the Diamond RV Park by mid-summer. The 10-unit RV park, located to the east of the motel, has been closed for about six years, according to Hansen. 

Published Nov. 23, 2011

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