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Play Ball!

As major league baseball players get into the swing of things, hotels in Florida and Arizona are hitting home runs with spring training promotions.

Monday, March 17, 2014
Maria Wood
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For hotels in scores of communities in Florida and Arizona, March brings two major selling points they can pitch to potential guests: beautiful weather and MLB’s spring training season.

Just as major league baseball players gear up for the upcoming season by stretching out their stiff (and overpaid) muscles, so do hotels that surround spring training sites prepare to welcome snowbirds making the trek south and west to escape the cold gripping everywhere else in the country.

It’s easy to understand the appeal. For baseball fans, it’s a chance to see their favorite team in a warm, more relaxed climate. For hoteliers in Florida and Arizona, it’s an added opportunity to lure in visitors during what is typically an annual high point for occupancy.

Special spring training packages include everything from discounted room rates to the chance to visit players in the dugout, throw out a ceremonial first pitch and, yes, even a box of Cracker Jacks.

Jesse Thompson, director of sales and marketing at Hotel Valley Ho in Downtown Scottsdale, Arizona, says that March is the hotel’s busiest time of year due to not only spring training, but also spring break and of course, the weather. Near to his hotel are training sites for the San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Chicago Cubs and the Oakland As. A bit further out are the Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox. Spring training, he states, “is what makes March March in Arizona, outside of the weather, which is 80 degrees and beautiful.”
First built in 1956, the Hotel Valley Ho operated under that name until 1973 when it was acquired by Ramada. Ramada eventually sold the hotel to its present ownership, which renovated the 191-room property back to its 1950 luster and rebranded it under its original moniker, recalls Thompson, who notes that baseball luminaries Ted Williams and Bob Feller once stayed at the hotel.

It reopened in late 2005, and since 2006, it has offered a special Monday through Sunday spring training package that includes a $50 resort credit to be used at any hotel outlet and a 15 percent to 20 percent discount on standard room rates, which run from $259 to $319 during the week and from $319 to $449 on the weekends. “So a 15 percent to 20 percent discount on $400 rates is pretty substantial,” Thompson says. Also included is a special baseball-themed amenity bag with a baseball hat, ChapStick, sunscreen, peanuts and popcorn.
As of March 5, the Hotel Valley Ho had booked 268 room nights through the spring training package, Thompson reports, adding that last year in March, the hotel had an occupancy rate of 95.3 percent.

Offering a discounted room rate attracts the value-conscious traveler, which in turn enables the hotel to increase rates for last-minute travelers when the hotel is at its fullest, relates Thompson.

“It’s almost sticker shock for some people when they call and want to come out for spring training and find out the rooms are $300 to $500 a night. So finding a value package that might have some breakfast or entertainment component always seems to move the needle earlier,” he explains. “Hotels obviously want to see the most occupancy on the books leading into the [busy] timeframe so they can yield those rates up for those last-minute buyers. So it’s layering the different layers of business on the books at the right times. I’m selling 30 to 35 rooms a night—day of—this time of year.”

Hotels adjacent to spring training sites usually start trumpeting these special packages in the late fall or early winter—around the same time the cold weather starts to blanket most of the country and baseball fans begin to long for the boys of summer. In some instances, the hotels work with a team to promote the special spring training offers.

In October, St. Louis Cardinals’ season ticket holders are sent information about the two spring training offers at the 168-room Jupiter Resort & Spa in Jupiter, Florida—the Play Ball and the VIP Diamond packages, says Diane D’Amico, director of sales and marketing for the hotel, which is advantageously located near the spring training base of the perennial contenders.

The Play Ball package includes a discount off the room rate, free breakfast, gift bag with a baseball, a Sharpie pen (better for getting for autographs) a $10 coin they can redeem at the stadium for a hot dog and beverage and of course, Cracker Jacks. With the VIP Diamond offer, which starts at $520 a night, guests get four tickets to a game (either to watch the Cardinals or Miami Marlins, which also train in Jupiter), a tour of Roger Dean stadium, the opportunity to go onto the field during batting practice and if there are children under eight in the party, they can visit with players in the dugout. And one lucky person throws out the ceremonial first pitch, D’Amico adds.

Room rates at the hotel run from $360 a night up to $1,500 for a two-bedroom penthouse suite. Occupancy in March hovers above the 90 percent range, but D’Amico says it’s difficult to pinpoint how many guests are attracted to the hotel mainly due to the special spring training packages. Many fans simply come to see their favorite team play and may not take the hotel up on spring training offerings. “We can tell that because the lobby is filled, mostly with St. Louis fans, in their hats and shirts,” she says.

For two years now, the Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater, Florida, has offered a two-night “Beach and Baseball” package, says Nancy Cimney, director of sales and marketing for the hotel that sports 203 rooms and 50 one- and two-bedroom suites. Not only is it located along Florida’s Gulf Coast, the Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees all train nearby. During March occupancy is in the high 80 percent range at the hotel, where rooms are priced at $300 to $1,500 a night. “Baseball and Beach” guests receive a daily breakfast for two, a baseball, two jumbo hot dogs and the ubiquitous box of Cracker Jacks.

“Sometimes, when people come down to spring training, they don’t think about coming out to the beach as well,” Cimney says. “We thought this would be a perfect way to tie in the beach and baseball. It creates interest in the property. Spring training and baseball are very important to tourism in Florida in March and in the spring. It’s a way to promote that as well our beaches at the same time.”

Some hotels work with a local tourist organization to get the word out about their spring training specials. Amy Kaufman, travel industry sales manager, Visit Mesa (Arizona), says that hotels in the Mesa area have the option of advertising their spring training packages on the organization’s website.

Visit Mesa has been promoting spring training specials since the late 1990s, when Hohokam Stadium was opened for the Chicago Cubs. Today, the Cubs train at the newly built Cubs Park at Mesa Riverview, which, according to Kaufman, is setting new records for Cactus League attendance.

Mesa-area hotels have yet to compile their final ADR and RevPAR numbers for March. “But our hotels have share shared with us early reports of being sold out most dates this month,” Kaufman says.

Also in Arizona, the 230-room W Scottsdale uses its central location near a plethora of teams (Giants, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Cubs, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Dodgers and White Sox) to entice winter-weary baseball fans. The hotel’s GM, Ren Hirose, says the W brand’s parent, Starwood, partners with the Chicago Cubs to promote its spring training package to season ticket holders back in Chicago.

March is the hotel’s busiest month, with a 15- to 20-point bump up in occupancy Hirose attributes to the potent combination of baseball and gorgeous weather. Room rates for its spring training package start at $323 a night, but as the hotel fills up, rates can push up to $400 a night. “That $323 rate is actually a very good deal at our hotel, with all the inclusions,” he says.

But more than just the amenities and discounted rates, guests enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere of spring training, where players are generally more approachable than during the regular season. “I used to live in Los Angeles and used to go to Dodger Stadium. It’s a big stadium,” Hirose says. “Our stadiums here are a lot smaller, more intimate and you are much closer to the field. The price of the tickets are much lower versus a regular season ticket. You can meet the players as they come off the bus and get an autograph. That’s why we added a baseball in our package so they can get an autographed baseball. For a kid or an older kid at heart you can’t beat that.”
Maria Wood
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division
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