Baltimore hotels hunker down, look for upturn

Workers' hours cut

More than 25% at Holiday Inn laid off

Post-attack cancellations

September 21, 2001|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

The Holiday Inn at the Inner Harbor has laid off more than a quarter of its workers, and other big hotels such as the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel and the Renaissance Harborplace are trimming staff hours as the city's hospitality industry tries to weather the decline in business caused by last week's terrorist attacks.

Many hotels in and around Baltimore's Inner Harbor are coping with the kind of drop in occupancy that usually isn't seen until winter, if it happens at all.

How the Baltimore Convention Center fares in retaining scheduled events in coming months will have a big impact on many area businesses.

Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, said four of 23 conferences or conventions scheduled from last week through the end of November have been canceled.

The total projected revenue lost in the Baltimore area is $21.4 million, he said.

"We're working to get them rescheduled, the ones in September especially," Armstrong said. "When you have three of those back to back, that can leave a pretty big gaping hole in somebody's revenue projections, especially in the hotel side.

"And not to mention many others," he said, pointing to restaurants, bars and linen-cleaning companies that rely on convention business.

Some hotel managers looked to this weekend - with the Orioles in town against the New York Yankees - and next week as tests for the local hotel industry.

"The Orioles games over the next two weekends are helping to fill up the hotel," said John L. Daw, general manager of the Renaissance Harborplace on Pratt Street. "I give a lot of credit to Major League Baseball for getting the baseball schedule on track and helping send a message to those terrorists that our hearts might be broken, but our spirits are not."

Still, Daw said, some groups have canceled reservations at the hotel and cancellations by business travelers have been "significant."

"That's driven by the fact that the airlines aren't fully operating. If you can't get people to their meeting, we can't get them into our hotel," he said.

`Massive cancellations'

Peter Komar, general manager of the Holiday Inn-Inner Harbor on Lombard Street, which has 375 rooms and 180 employees, said, "A good 25 to 40 percent of our business is convention-driven, so it's a significant figure.

"We've had massive cancellations of everything, groups, individuals, catering," Komar said. "Thousands of rooms have been canceled."

The result, Komar and other hotel managers said, is a commensurate reduction in the work hours of their staffs, including house cleaners, valets, bellhops and clerks.

"If a reduction in man-hours is called for, we will do that, and we are currently doing that," said Mike Waterman, area director of sales and marketing for the 750-room Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel.

Waterman said 60 percent of groups scheduled to arrive last week and this week "did not materialize," primarily because of airline complications.

"We do believe it to be a temporary thing, though," he said. "We're going to be close to sold-out this weekend."

Waterman said the hotel plans to trim employee hours during slower parts of the week. The cuts will be at all levels, he said, including management. The hotel has 650 employees.

Hotel employees such as valets, who depend on tips to supplement typically low hourly wages, have been hit hard by the decline in the number of guests.

"It's terrible right now," said a valet at the Renaissance, who did not want his name used. There and at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore at the Inner Harbor on Light Street, several valets spoke of looking for additional part-time jobs if their work shifts are pared back.

A time for new strategies

Last week's tragic events are prompting the hospitality industry and leisure travelers to adopt new strategies.

Lee Johnson, director of corporate sales for the Brookshire Suites and the Pier 5 Hotel, went with his associate Colleen Dermady to meet with corporate clients in Baltimore's Inner Harbor East, including Sylvan Learning Systems Inc., Prometric Inc. and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. The hotels are both owned by Meyer Jabara Hotels, based in Connecticut and Florida.

"Today, we're both out pounding the pavement," Johnson said. "We're letting people know what's available."

Johnson said he pushed the hotels' video-conferencing services - something he would have never focused on before last week's events - for companies that are shuffling their employees around and as overall corporate travel declines.

Several blocks away, Walt Dunston, a dentist, and Shelley Dabney, a paralegal, both from Philadelphia, said they'll be taking more short leisure trips by rail rather than flights or cruises.

Sitting by the bar in the lobby of the Renaissance Harborplace, they said they arrived by Amtrak on Monday - touring Harborplace, riding the water taxi and dining at the Rusty Scupper - and planned to leave yesterday afternoon.

"We thought about going to San Juan toward the end of the year, but we changed that," Dunston said. "We're going to stay closer to home."

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