Rise, Fall, and Reckoning: The Untold Tale of Howard Johnson’s Closure in 2009 – A Riveting Journey Through Local Hotel Turmoil

HOUMA — Local hotel proprietors faced a challenging period of low occupancy rates in late 2009 due to diminished business travel, with Thibodaux’s Howard Johnson ultimately succumbing to closure on January 15, concluding its four-decade run in the industry.

David Jones, who served as manager and part owner for 19 years, acknowledged the impact of the recession, stating, “We just couldn’t make it work anymore.”

Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Houma-Thibodaux area experienced a surge in business travel, driven by a flourishing oilfield and an influx of hurricane-recovery personnel, leading to a proliferation of hotel construction. Since 2005, Terrebonne’s hotel rooms more than doubled, and Lafourche’s increased by approximately a third, excluding ongoing construction projects like Wingate by Wyndham and Courtyard by Marriott in Houma.

However, current trends reveal a growing number of unoccupied rooms. Although specific occupancy figures were not immediately available from local tourist bureaus, sales-tax data from both parishes indicated a significant downturn in hotel business over the latest three months for which information is accessible.

In Lafourche, hotel sales-tax collections dropped by 38 percent in October, 54 percent in November, and around 47 percent in December, compared to the same months in 2008. Terrebonne experienced a similar decline, with collections down 58 percent in October and 37 percent in November and December.

Howard Johnson, which traditionally maintained an occupancy rate ranging between 55 and 60 percent in a typical year, witnessed a dramatic fall to as low as 20 percent in the final months of 2009, leading to the difficult decision to close its doors. This decision also resulted in the displacement of approximately 30 employees.

Despite recent renovations amounting to $150,000, the aging Howard Johnson faced stiff competition from newer establishments like the Hampton Inn and Days Inn, according to Jones.

Hospitality professionals, including Blair Stancliff, the general manager of the Hampton Inn in Thibodaux, acknowledged the industry-wide challenge. While the first three months after opening in January met expectations, the facility ended 2009 with an average occupancy below 50 percent.

Rene Claudet, manager at Houma’s Quality Hotel, highlighted the challenging period for everyone in the industry, emphasizing that the region’s hotels heavily rely on business, especially from oilfield-related activities. Despite recent difficulties, both Claudet and Stancliff expressed optimism for a rebound, noting positive signs in bookings for the upcoming months.

In contrast, the fate of Howard Johnson remains uncertain, as the building is currently seeking a new tenant. Jones expressed gratitude for Thibodaux’s support and wished that circumstances could have allowed the iconic establishment to continue its operations.