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Downtown Omni Hotel Prepares for Another Big Season

The Omni San Diego, which will celebrate its first anniversary in April, got an early birthday surprise.

As the nation’s only lodging facility connected by a skywalk to a major league sports stadium, the 511-room hotel drew far more out-of-town guests and local Padres fans during the 2004 baseball season than expected. And if early bookings are any indication, the hotel is on track to outperform last year’s numbers.

Ed Netzhammer, the Omni’s general manager, said that it logged 97,000 nightly room bookings between April and the end of December. While 5,000 nightly room bookings could be attributed strictly to game attendance , about three times more than anticipated , he said he was also surprised to learn that 29 percent of that total was for local fans.

Although many tourists took in games while staying at the Omni, those bookings weren’t included in the tally since they came to the city for other reasons, including attending events at the San Diego Convention Center.

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“That showed that a lot of season ticket holders either didn’t want to deal with the traffic, or get home late after going out in the Gaslamp after a game,” Netzhammer said. “It also shows that in today’s busy world, mini-vacations are very popular with people even if it is in their own city.”

Before the Omni’s opening April 6 , the same day the Padres christened Petco Park with a 4-3 win against the San Francisco Giants , JMI Realty of San Diego and Dallas-based Omni Hotels were confident that the new Downtown ballpark would spur tourism.

But it was difficult to make projections, since the team hadn’t kept statistics or surveys on how many people travel to games from outside the county.

Yet from the hotel’s guest roster, Netzhammer has observed that the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs were among the visiting teams that “traveled well,” meaning they attracted the highest numbers of out-of-town fans.

Between April and the end of December, the Omni’s occupancy averaged 70 percent, Netzhammer said. According to Tennessee-based Smith Travel Research, that rate roughly parallels the average occupancy rate for the county’s hotels during 2004.

Tourism officials predict that occupancy will be relatively flat in 2005 compared to 2004, although Netzhammer expects the Omni will see an average rate of 76 percent.

“So far, at three months into this year, we’re over 80 percent occupied, and April will be our busiest month, what with a combination of baseball and citywide events and in-house meetings,” he said.

To accommodate an increasing demand for meetings, Netzhammer said the Omni plans to use 6,200 square feet of space designated for retail use in an adjacent parking garage at Sixth Avenue and L Street.

The Omni leases part of the garage and the retail space from the Centre City Development Corp., which has given tentative approval to the plan. It calls for a storefront area of about 1,500 square feet on L Street to be devoted to an art gallery. The meeting area would be behind the gallery, which has yet to be named.

High Honors: The San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association presented a gold key award to Rita Vandergaw, director of marketing for the San Diego Unified Port District.

The honor, given during an awards banquet at the Town & Country Resort this month, recognized outstanding contributions to the county’s tourism by someone who works outside the lodging industry.

Vandergaw was credited with being instrumental in increasing the port’s cruise ship passenger count to 500,000 in 2004, which is triple the amount in 1999.

Pam Richardson, the general manager of the Hotel Solamar and the chairwoman of the association, was honored as its “Hotelperson of the Year.”


Send tourism and hospitality information to Connie Lewis via fax at (858) 571-3628 or by e-mail at clewis@sdbj.com. She may also be reached by phone at (858) 277-6359.

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