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Packaging The Presidential Inauguration for Profit

The President is set to start his second term on Monday, here’s how hotels are taking advantage of this money making opportunity.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Harriet Edleson
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With President Obama’s second inauguration just days away, hotels in the nation’s capital and beyond are taking advantage of the event to create hotel packages to tempt prospective guests. It’s also a great way to fill rooms with softer room demand than during this historic 2009 inauguration.

Whenever there’s a high-profile event or a holiday, hoteliers know that it’s a way to market. And the Presidential Inauguration is a prime example.

Prices have skyrocketed in Washington, DC, with multi-day packages aimed at the luxury traveler, those who want to see-and-be-seen or simply splurge in honor of the event. Hotels are posting packages into the thousands of dollars for four nights as well as opportunities for groups to take over all the rooms at boutique hotels.

No splendor has been spared, and no detail overlooked as hotels vie for attention and guests. Imagine $20,000 for one night. It’s available at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood. The 4,000-square-foot Royal Suite, usually $15,000 a night has jumped to $20,000 a night as a one-bedroom space during the inauguration. The suite opens onto a landscaped 1,000-square-foot terrace that includes a dining table for 10 and a view of historic Georgetown.

Consider $100,000 for four nights in a suite at The Ritz-Carton, Washington, DC. Don’t worry. The “Access Washington” package includes two round-trip, first class domestic airline tickets, chauffeured airport transfers, a three-course dinner on Jan. 18, a diamond and ruby designer pin, and an Inaugural Parade Watching Party at the Newseum to mention just a fraction of the details. Still too much?

Most cost less but they are all about generating exposure and revenue. They can be linked to a major national event as with the inauguration, to a local event, a certain target market, or a time of year.

The Fairfax at Embassy Row, a Starwood Luxury Collection property, has a number of packages timed to the inauguration including the “Historical Inauguration” four-night one from Jan. 18 through Jan. 22, which features a six-course inaugural dinner, a tour of George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon; a moonlight tour of the monuments, and a Lincoln Assassination Tour with scholar Dr. Kathleen Bashian. The Lincoln tour will include a stop at Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen House, where Lincoln was carried after he was shot, and where he ultimately died. The price begins at $6,999 including taxes and gratuities for two, and is just one of the ways The Fairfax aims to pique guests’ interest.

“It’s all about marketing,” says Alexandra Byrne, director of sales and marketing at The Fairfax at Embassy Row. Packages “give people a reason to come” to the hotel. Even if a potential guest believes the packages cost more than they want to spend, they suggest ideas of what there is to see and do once they do book a room at the hotel, she says. By reading about the package, she says, a prospective guest “knows it’s a good location.” Though packages do sell, she says, people tend to “browse packages more than they buy them,” and people may book a room, then plan their own excursions. For example, she says, after the last inauguration in 2009, guests who didn’t book for the inauguration booked at a future time.

What’s the key to a good hotel package? “It’s creativity,” says Bryne. “It’s finding something that is not common, finding something where people stop and react, saying, ‘I want to do that.’”

Packages entice guests.
“You build the package to suit the goals of the hotel at that particular time,” says Keith McClinsey, director of sales at Marriott’s Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. “What is your goal at the time of year?”

Are you trying to attract families, older adults, single adults? For example, he says, to Interest families include breakfast in the package, if you are aiming for couples, offer a free cocktail. “You’ll be surprised how many you book.” For example, during 2012 New Year’s Eve’s, the Mayflower put together a $500 package, and booked 11 of them. The hotel sent out a direct mail marketing piece to area Marriott Rewards members in Maryland, Virginia, and DC. “We put a lot of effort in our packages,” he says.

Another key is not to post too many packages on your web site at once, he says. Rather, limit it to three or four at a time.

For the inauguration, the hotel has a “Red, White &You” package that includes daily breakfast, nightly parking, and a collection of DVDs with political themes for in-room viewing.

Boutique hotels like The Jefferson, DC, has its own brand of luxury during the inauguration weekend offering the Thomas Jefferson Presidential Suite with a view of the White House starting at $8,500 a night. For those in search of a relative bargain, the standard two-night package at the hotel begins at $1,185 per night.

Washington isn’t the only city getting into the act for the inauguration. The Westin New York Grand Central has created its “Presidential Perks” package during weekend stays through the end of February. Guests get two $44 in-room dining credits in honor of the 44th U.S. President, round-trip airport transfers in a Cadillac Escalade, and snack basket of Obama’s favorites including salted caramels, and other perks. For the Presidential Suite package, the price tag tops out at $5,500 per night. “It’s a way to create a buzz about the hotel and put heads in beds,” says Kristin Hankins, director of sales and marketing at the Westin New York Grand Central. Potential guests may not be able to afford the presidential package but, says Hankins, will think, ‘what else do they do that I can actually afford?’

Which is precisely the point: While most guests might not purchase the package, some will. Hoteliers say if the package is unusually appealing, hits a target market by offering free parking when parking is usually $45 a night at the Mayflower, for example, potential guests will book. Another reason people buy a package is they perceive it to be a “great value” or it has “components that interest them,” says McClinsey.

“We try to think about who’s the target and what are we trying to accomplish.”
Harriet Edleson
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Harriet Edleson is author of The Little Black Book of Washington, DC: The Essential Guide to America's
Capital (Peter Pauper Press, 2007, 2010, 2012) and a contributor to the Itineraries section of The New York Times.
She was Washington Correspondent of Travel Agent magazine from 1993-1999, and creator of "Two Tickets to Paradise," a monthly travel segment on WMAL-Radio, the ABC affilate in Washington, DC. She now lives in Manhattan. Harriet333@aol.com
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