(Williamsport) – When people talk about the trickle-down benefits of Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom, one of the first things they’ll likely mention are the booked hotel rooms.
The [Williamsport] Holiday Inn Express has seen a 30 percent increase in guests over the past year.
The vast majority of those customers are natural gas drillers who are in town to work on the hundreds of new wells in the surrounding area.
The hotel’s vice president, Jennifer Locey, says that’s created a squeeze.
“Most corporate weeks, Monday through Thursday, if you don’t book at least a few days in advance, you will not get a room,” Locey says.
That’s the case throughout the Marcellus Shale formation. Drillers are staying in hotels and motels for months at a time, generating stable, robust business for the lodging industry.
Tonight, I pulled into the parking lot of that same Holiday Inn, looking for a room. My hopes weren’t high — the parking lot was packed with the white pickup trucks that are the signature of the natural gas drilling industry.
Sure enough, the hotel was booked.
Chances seemed just as slim at a nearby place. I walked in and tentatively asked if they had a room. The woman behind the counter checked her computer. “We do!” she said. “We have one left. But it’s a smoking room.”
That was OK, I told her.
“It’s also our Jacuzzi suite.”
That made things a bit more complicated. I was traveling on the company dime, after all. But with no other choices, I gave her my card, took my keys, and walked to the room.
And that’s when I met Bobby.
When I opened the door, I saw a large man sprawled across the bed. He was, unsurprisingly, a bit startled to see me. “Guess it’s two to a room these days?” he asked. The hotel was so packed that he and I had been accidentally double-booked.
Bobby said he was from Oklahoma, and in town on drilling business. (We had this conversation down in the lobby, where we sorted out the mistake.) Bobby’s one of the many out-of-towners who travel to Williamsport to capitalize on natural gas drilling. They’re not all drillers. He handles leasing paperwork for landowners. Other people here are building pipelines. I even talked to a man whose job it is to handle rattlesnakes who slither over to well pads.
The room situation was sorted out. I lost my chance at the Jacuzzi suite. But the ordeal made one thing clear: five years into Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale boom, the hotels are still booked solid.