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Tourism Manchester Resorts lays off two top execs

The fall-off in tourist trade in San Diego following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused several hotels to cut their staffing, including the layoff of two high-profile executives at Manchester Resorts.

President and CEO Jim Bailey and Peter Litrenta, vice president for public affairs for San Diego-based Manchester Resorts were notified they would not be retained after Dec. 1.

“Because of what’s happened in the industry lately, we were told by Doug (Manchester) that he could not assure our jobs beyond Dec. 1,” Bailey said.

Bailey said other layoffs had taken place in the company but would not provide a figure, and referred the question to Dick Gibbons, president of Manchester’s hotel division. Gibbons did not return several phone calls.

Litrenta, a former spokesman for the U.S. Navy and chairman of the San Diego Port Tenants Association, could not be reached for comment. He has been Manchester’s point person for the company’s two biggest development projects, the 750-room expansion of the Hyatt Regency San Diego that is under way, and the Oceanside Beach Resorts, a planned 400-room hotel with restaurants and shops near the Oceanside Pier.

Manchester Resorts, the owner of the Hyatt Regency and 49 percent owner of the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina, has seen a dramatic fall-off in business caused by the cancellation of events at the San Diego Convention Center and a decline in what was already shaping up as a slower last quarter.

But the events of Sept. 11 have taken their toll at many other hotels and tourist businesses.

“Most of the association’s tourist-related businesses are off, and many of their employees have either been furloughed, or have agreed to accept reduced pay,” said Dick Cloward, executive director for the San Diego Port Tenants Association.

Last month, the Hotel del Coronado laid off 225 workers due to a 40 percent drop in business.

“We already were anticipating a softer fourth quarter because of the general economic downturn that started about a year ago, but since Sept. 11 there’s been a lot more pressure,” said Michael Hardisty, CEO for the Hotel del Coronado. “A lot of groups canceled and others deferred their meetings and events into next year.”

About a third of the meetings that canceled rescheduled for different times next year, he said.

Besides the layoff of 225 workers, the hotel also cut the hours of 50 other employees, putting them to work on an as-needed basis, Hardisty said.

Pam Richardson, general manager of the Hilton San Diego Airport/Harbor Island, said some hotels have been hit a lot harder by the downturn in tourism in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“A lot of hotels are experiencing a slowdown in business and what they’re doing more than anything else is reducing hours,” Richardson said.

At the Hilton, that drop in business was running about 20 to 30 percent from earlier projections, causing management to cut schedules for some staffers. So far, the hotel has laid off only one person.

“We hired one person just before Sept. 11 and since then we decided this wasn’t a good time to have the person start,” she said.

The Hilton at Harbor Island has about 125 employees when the hotel is at full capacity, and currently employs about 100. The hotel’s occupancy rate, which usually was about 80 percent at this time of year, was running at the low 60 percent range lately, Richardson said.

“The business started to slow down at the end of summer, which caused some cuts, but after Sept. 11, there’s been more declines,” she said.

At the San Diego Convention Center, at least two large gatherings canceled last month.

The Financial Planning Association had been scheduled for Sept. 14-16, and was supposed to bring about 4,000 people. A convention of Wendy’s International, scheduled for Oct. 8-11, also canceled. That group planned to attract about 3,000 attendees, said spokeswoman Gayle Falkenthal.

Two other conventions rescheduled their original dates to later dates in December and January. Given the situation, the center was in “tremendous shape,” and management didn’t expect any further meeting cancellations, she said.

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