Econowatch/dt1st/mark2nd By JENNIFER NETHERBY Staff Reporter Hotel occupancy in the San Fernando Valley held steady in 1998 despite a 6.4 percent increase in room costs, as well as trouble abroad with the Asian economic crisis and weather problems stateside from El Nino, according to PKF Consulting, which tracks the hotel industry. The average 1998 Valley hotel occupancy rate held steady at 73.54 percent, up just barely from 73.15 percent the previous year. At the same time, the average cost of a hotel room rose from $99.12 to $105.50. “Since 1994, occupancy has been high enough that hotel owners thought they could successfully increase rates. And they did,” said PKF researcher Melissa Mills. Hotel room rates have been increasing by 6 or 7 percent each year since 1995, Mills said. Occupancy rates have stayed steady. Valley occupancy rates were slightly below 1998 rates for Los Angeles as a whole, which averaged 74.41 percent. Tourism was the third-largest industry for L.A. County in 1997, generating $26 billion. For 1999, PKF predicts Valley hotel occupancy rates will drop while room rates will continue to rise.