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New Year’s Eve: Party and Spend at Hotels

Recession? What recession?

If Rip Van Winkle had awakened to all the revelry conducted in San Diego on New Year’s Eve, he wouldn’t have had a clue that hard times may be looming on the economic forefront.

Either that or the merrymakers who packed nightclubs, bistros and hotels to don paper hats, toss confetti, blow tin horns and party until the wee hours decided to put their worries on the back burner for a little while.

Or perhaps San Diegans just party on no matter what.

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There’s no official tally on the amount of money the revelers shelled out, and those who keep tabs on the lodging industry’s occupancy rates are still crunching the numbers for the night.

But according to local hotel executives, hotels big and small that hosted parties rang in 2008 with enough sales to make it one of their highest revenue generating nights of the year , peak summer tourism notwithstanding.


A Grand Evening

Joe Stern, marketing director for the 1,625-room Manchester Grand Hyatt, downtown’s largest convention hotel, says it filled 1,200 rooms on Dec. 31, roughly the same number as last year.

But the hotel did things differently this year. It changed its strategy from partnering with an outside promoter to throw one large ballroom bash to going it alone and hosting separate events throughout the property.

Packages ranged in price from $595 per couple for a room and admission to an exclusive party on the 40th floor Top of the Hyatt lounge to $349 per couple for a room and entry to Redfield’s Lounge, a ground-floor bar. Extra twofers were also available in the room packages, such as a two-for-one 50-minute spa treatment.

Stern said Jan. 2 that the tally for food and beverage sales had yet to be calculated. However, hosting individual parties gave management “better control of the numbers and what was served,” he added.

Many of the hotel’s guests, however, did their partying off property in the nearby Gaslamp Quarter.

“There were people going to smaller destinations in the Gaslamp,” he said. “They just wanted to be downtown and stay overnight.”


A New Strategy

Rob Cameron, general manager of the chic 235-room Solamar, says it opted to partner with an outside party promoter to host a bash in the ballroom for the first time since it opened in 2005.

“They (the promoter) set up the DJs and the DJs have the following and they produced the event and promoted it as well,” he said. “They also did the d & #233;cor, handled the tickets and the sales and set up the Web site.

“Because they have the contacts, and we as the venue have the notoriety, it was a good marriage.”

Apparently so. The hotel’s rooms were booked and he anticipated a crowd count for the ballroom and at the J6Bar, its rooftop, poolside patio bar, of 1,000. The promoter took in the cash from ticket sales and the hotel made its money from the sales of food and beverage and rooms.

Although “covers,” or diners, in the Jsix Restaurant were off slightly compared with the year before, Cameron says he is confident that the increase in bar business this year more than offset the deficiency. He anticipates that the take for the night would be at least $225,000.

Rates for a double occupancy room started at $319, higher than the December average of $249.

The demographic targeted was people in their late 20s to early 40s, says Ed Nesfield, Solamar’s director of catering and conference services.


No Room At The Inns

Dennis Fraher, general manager of the 284-room Marriott Del Mar, also said he partnered with a promoter.

“We normally don’t sell out on New Year’s, but it looks like we could tonight,” he said in a phone interview early in the afternoon of Dec. 31. “I hope this is the start of something new.”

Greg Strangman, who heads the San Diego-based development firm L.W.P. Group Inc. and owns the Pearl Hotel, an older Point Loma motel that reopened as an upscale, but moderately priced boutique in the fall, says he expected a capacity crowd for a New Year’s party in its restaurant and poolside patio. “I would expect 100 percent occupancy,” he said Dec. 31.

Rates for rooms on New Year’s Eve ranged between $239 and $289, as opposed to a range of $129 to $189 nightly for most of December.

According to Smith Travel Research, a Tennessee firm that tracks lodging statistics nationwide, a preliminary report shows that occupancy at the county’s inns between Dec. 1 and 22 averaged 54.3 percent, up 3 percent from the same year-ago period. Daily rates averaged $117.25, a 4.4 percent increase from $112.34 last year.

Those numbers reflected the impact of the third annual San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 20, when occupancy was 38.7 percent, but did not show the effect of the 30th annual Pacific Life Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27. San Diego’s two college football bowl games attracted many out of town guests, with the Holiday Bowl featuring more than 60,000 fans in all and the Poinsettia Bowl sporting a crowd of nearly 40,000.

Occupancy during November, the most recent monthly report from Smith Travel, stood at 71.3 percent, up 9.2 percent from November 2006, while daily rates averaged $133.09, an increase of 5 percent.

For the top 25 tourism destinations as a whole, including San Diego, year-over-year occupancy during November averaged 64.6 percent, down slightly from 65.3 percent in the same month of 2006. Nationwide, occupancy during November was 58.2 percent, down 1 percent, or basically flat compared to the same year-ago month.

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