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In snowstorm, Washington hotels lose revenue but locals fill rooms

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 11, 2010

The two blizzards over the past week brought huge numbers of hotel cancellations from would-be travelers to the Washington region, reducing occupancy and hotel revenue.

While the effects are hard to quantify so far, a chunk of the losses has been offset by locals who needed a hotel room, whether it was someone who had no electricity at home, a snowplow driver who needed to be near his vehicle or a ballerina performing at the Kennedy Center.

"There has been a definite loss in revenue due to the snowstorms," said Ed Virtue, general manager of the Hotel Monaco in downtown Washington, one of seven District hotels owned by San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants.

Virtue said that while the storm last weekend boosted occupancy, Wednesday's blizzard caused many cancellations by groups who wanted to steer clear of the region.

"A week that we expected to be nearly sold out has turned into 45 percent occupancy," he said.

In search of revenue, the Kimpton properties, the Ritz-Carlton and the Jefferson Hotel were among the downtown Washington hotels offering special snow rates that cut room prices as much as 50 percent.

"It helped because we could recoup the loss from some rooms, but it was at half the average rate," said Franck X. Arnold, managing director at the Jefferson, whose Plume restaurant closed Saturday when staffers couldn't make it in. "It alleviates the pain, but the pain was still there."

Linda Isacson and her family -- including their dog, Cookie -- camped out most of the past week at the Ritz-Carlton on M and 22nd streets. The Isacsons, of McLean, needed easy access to the Kennedy Center, where their 12-year-old daughter, Julia, was dancing with the Mariinsky Ballet from St. Petersburg, Russia.

"We are tired of the snow, but not tired of the Ritz," Linda Isacson said. "If you had to be stuck somewhere, this would be a pretty good place to choose."

Rachel Ahmed lost power at her Potomac home last weekend, so her family preempted the blizzard and headed to the Ritz-Carlton, where her three children dined on hot chocolate and cotton candy, and learned how to bake sugar cookies in the hotel kitchen.

"With the winds and the blizzard predicted, we thought we'd get ahead of the curve and drive to the Ritz," Ahmed said. "We've been driving people crazy in the club lounge. My husband had been working from his BlackBerry, and last night we ate fondue and had aperitifs."

The Hyatt properties in the Washington area have also taken a hit.

"Although the occupancy is still up at some of the hotels, the rates are much lower. So significant revenue has been lost in rates, and due to the loss of the meeting space and food and beverage business for the conventions," said Hyatt spokesperson Tammy Hagin.

Hagin said business at the Hyatts in Bethesda and Washington was lifted by local residents who had lost electricity. The Hyatt Regency Washington got a boost when Amtrak, CNN and the Capitol Police booked rooms so their employees could ride out the storm. Both hotels are running higher occupancy, between 85 and 95 percent, but rooms are selling at below their normal rates.

Carlos Abelende, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn Arlington/Shirlington, said the 143-room hotel was full Wednesday and last weekend, thanks largely to Arlington County road crews, employees of the Signature Theater and the WETA public television station, which needed rooms for technicians.

"This area is pretty driven during the week by corporate and government travel," said Abelende, who sent e-mail blasts and distributed fliers in anticipation of the storm. "We are sold out not because of that, but because of the local business that we're getting."

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