Those lazy late days of summer means it’s typically slow time in southeastern hotel business. That’s because too many people are fleeing those states to retreat to cooler climates and avoid stirring storms. But hotel staffers and general managers alike stood their ground through hurricanes and heat waves when the Democratic and Republican National Conventions came to town.
During Labor Day of last year Charlotte, North Carolina averaged a 17.3 percent committed occupancy rate in hotels across the board. But this year, because of the DNC, hotels have seen a 109 percent increase in that number, according to TravelClick.
“Historically the Labor Day weekend tends to be very slow for this city in general,” says Bill Bennett, director of sales and marketing for the Charlotte Marriott Executive Park. Bennett’s property boasted almost 100 percent occupancy, with over 80 percent of hotel inventory committed to the city of Charlotte.
Terry Crawford, general manager of the Embassy Suites Charlotte Concord Resort & Spa, says that he began making preparation for DNC delegates immediately after Charlotte received the bid for host city. “We had close to a year of preparation of this. There’s a lot of internal planning on how to handle [this] when it got down to what delegations we were going to have.” Crawford’s property committed 295 of their 308 rooms to DNC delegates from Michigan, Maryland, and Rhode Island, and they will be at 100 percent occupancy during throughout the DNC.
For Bennett and his crew, they looked to sister hotels for some advice on how to handle the crowds for the impending DNC. “We reached out to our sister hotels in Denver and Boston to find out what worked and what didn’t work when they had hosted the DNC in the past,” said Bennett.
And further south, despite threats from Hurricane Isaac, hotels in Tampa Bay, Florida saw close to 100 percent occupancy during the RNC. Derrick Morrow, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Tampa, said that his property saw a 95 percent occupancy rate, even with the impending threat of Isaac. “Obviously there [was] some concern [about Isaac] but we prepared for it with standard procedures.”
Morrow had begun making arrangements with the RNC committee two years ago to secure enough rooms to accommodate his assigned delegates. “The RNC assigns rooms and certain delegations based on who they need where,” Morrow says. “We’ve been sold out since two years ago.”
The Renaissance Tampa International Plaza’s General Manager, Jim Batholomay also said they were aware of how many rooms RNC donors would require a year before the convention came to town. “They all have to go through the RNC to book their rooms,” Batholomay said. “The RNC came to Tampa about a year ago and gained commitments from hotels on what percentage of the rooms would be allocated to the RNC.” The Renaissance allocated 95 percent of their rooms to RNC donors.
To prepare for this sort of crowd, Batholomay’s entire staff was on-call for any needs the Renaissance’s hotel guests would need. “In preparation for [RNC], the whole staff was put on notice that no one would be on vacation during that time so we could be fully staffed,” Batholomay said.
Both the RNC and DNC committees provided transportation for their delegates from each respective property. Some were as close as six blocks, others three and a half miles away from the sites of their respective conventions.
“The DNC handled all transportation to and from hotels to get to the convention, “ says Crawford. “When they are here and their own though, we have on the ground trollies running 8-day shifts for shopping restaurants and they link to other forms of transportation in the city.”
Crawford and his team also created a handout for the delegates of the convention titled, “Got Time on Your Hands” that outlined the various restaurants, golf courses, and museums that delegates could visit. Each location listed the approximated time it would take to partake in each activity, how much the activity would cost, and how far away each one is from the hotel. “It’s meant to be a guide to the area and will help conference attendees find activities to fill their free time,” Crawford says
But Republican or Democrat, red or blue, hotel staffers believe that hosting the DNC and RND brings great publicity to Charlotte and Tampa.
“This is great exposure,” Morrow says. “There are delegates from different states that are in our great city and hopefully individuals can come back to a town they weren’t really aware of in the past.