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Monday, January 28, 2013 - 1:33am

Columbus Hoteliers Ready For Whitewater

Two new hotels are under construction in the Columbus area and a third is about to break ground just across the river in Phenix City, Alabama.

Officials say the nearly completed whitewater rafting course through downtown is driving the new construction. Ram Hotels will break ground on a 99-room Courtyard Marriott in February or early March after finally securing financing. Ram's vice president of operations, Matt Patel, said the course is the main reason for the new property. But he also sees another opportunity.

“Some of the hotels in Columbus are aging. There are quite a few older hotels, and you know, our consumers want new and they want updated things," Patel said. "That’s one of the reasons why we have this Courtyard: it’s going to up-to-date, we have the bistro in there, and it’s targeted toward modern essentials. It’s for the modern traveler.”

Patel said he expects to serve some military customers from Fort Benning, too, but called that the icing on the cake for his hotel.

“Part of that anticipation from the hoteliers’ perspective is the number of people that will be attending or participating in this outdoor sport [whitewater rafting]," said Peter Bowden, president and CEO of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The research is telling us that for every one athlete there are 10 spectators.”

Bowden said the work to transform the Chattahoochee River into whitewater rapids is also restoring the waterway, opening up opportunities for other outdoor activities like fishing and birding.

He said Fort Benning continues to drive a big portion of the area’s tourism as families come in for graduations or veterans have reunions with their former units.