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Marriott to Close Md. Call Center

Company Consolidating Operations

By Neil Irwin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 15, 2005; Page E05

Marriott International Inc. said yesterday it will close a call center in Gaithersburg next month, eliminating 160 local jobs, as more and more customers make hotel reservations online.

The proportion of reservations made through the company's Web site more than doubled between 2001 and 2004, said Marriott spokeswoman Stephanie Hampton, necessitating consolidation of the company's facilities to take reservation calls. Calls that would have been taken by operators in Gaithersburg will now be handled in larger facilities in Omaha and Salt Lake City.

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Affected employees were notified in March of the impending closure, Hampton said, and the company is trying to find jobs for as many of the call center workers as possible at its Washington area hotels and corporate headquarters in Bethesda. The company is one of the region's largest employers, with 13,165 local workers, including those at the call center.

"These are workers with great customer service skills," said Hampton. "Our goal is to help them find opportunities within the company to practice those customer service skills."

An official of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development said the prospects are good for the affected workers. The agency is holding workshops on résumé writing and interview skills for the employees to help them find new jobs, said Joseph Shapiro, a spokesman for the department.

"We're confident we'll get a majority of these people re-employed immediately without them having to go on unemployment," said Shapiro.

"There are jobs out there, such as some call centers associated with law firms that are growing. So timing-wise, it might work out well for the former Marriott employees."

Montgomery County's unemployment rate was 3.4 percent in February, according to the Labor Department, one of the lowest in Maryland and below the Washington region's overall rate of 3.7 percent.

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