Motel price signs come down |

Motel price signs come down

Sally J. Taylor

For the first time in years, price signs are not cluttering the windows of South Lake Tahoe motels.

According to Mark Patel, the organizer of the voluntary ban, only one motel owner did not remove the signs by Sunday, the date set to begin a 90-day “gentleman’s agreement.”

“Everyone is going to hang on for a month,” said Patel, the president of The Indian Association and owner of the Tradewinds Motel. Because Tahoe will then be in the peak of the tourist season, he’s confident the ban will continue through the summer and become permanent.

Already, some motel owners are seeing benefits.

John Halwani, owner of the Stateline Lodge and Ski Hause Lodge, removed his signs June 1. His business has remained busy even though he raised prices from $25 a night to $35 or $40. Sunday night, after all the price signs came down, he was nearly full even though it’s normally a slow night.

“We’ve increased our business and our rates by $10,” said Halwani, a six-year South Shore motel owner. “I haven’t seen (business this good) since 1994.”

Pat and Anne Pachote, 24-year owners of Pioneer Inn, are also encouraged, even though their turnaround has not been as dramatic. A couple potential customers left rather than pay the $8 price increase. Others stayed anyway.

“It isn’t going to help overnight,” Pat Pachote said. “I feel very positive. Give it a chance and it will get better.

“It’s been a long time in coming.”

Motel window price signs have been a major point of contention in the South Shore’s lodging industry. The signs are viewed as degrading to the industry, giving the appearance of a cheap town.

“You expect (those prices) in the low end of Stockton,” Pachote said.

According to lodging industry leaders, as signs force prices down, motel owners are not able to afford upkeep and the motels deteriorate, further degrading the town. Even motel owners who don’t like price signs are forced into the practice because customers go elsewhere to get the low rate. In a healthy economy, there are enough customers for everyone, signs or no signs. In a slow economy, competition can get ruthless.

After fighting the practice and seeing a stream of customers complain and then go to motels down the street, Pachote finally succumbed four years ago. Afterward, his business decreased by 40 percent.

“It was partly the economy but another 25 to 30 percent can be blamed on price signs.”

Without the signs, customers look at the quality of the property rather than the price, he said.

South Shore lodging owners have their fingers crossed that the informal ban continues. The competition for customers can make motel owners skittish. Previous attempts to ban price signs failed when one sign started a domino effect.

“I’m scared people will start backing out and not give it the time it needs,” Halwani said. “But, I think, by (June) 20 or 23, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Patel is prepared to sooth any nervous motel owners.

Many owners have promised to contact Patel if they see window signs go back up, instead of immediately posting their own signs. Patel has promised, with the help of other motel owners, to personally talk to the offender.

Keeping the ban alive will hopefully see health restored to the industry.

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