Businesses expect a booming weekend

Ripken's final game, Ravens, conventions promise big draw

`It's all hands on deck'

October 05, 2001|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's hospitality industry, buffeted since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, is gearing up for a break-out Columbus Day weekend.

Cal Ripken's final game with the Orioles is tomorrow; the Ravens play host to divisional rival Tennessee on Sunday. Add several conventions and a federal holiday Monday, and many downtown hotel and restaurant managers are expecting high occupancy rates and packed dining rooms over the weekend.

"I would say, in a phrase, it's all hands on deck," said Judi DiGioia, sales and marketing manager for Morton's Steakhouse in the Sheraton-Inner Harbor Hotel. "We have lots of reservations from, pleasingly, a lot of different sources. There's business from baseball and football .... and business coming in from conventions in town.

"The other thing that's nice is our local clientele have been here all along," DiGioia said, adding that people are ready to "dip their toes back in the water" since the attacks.

Several downtown hotel managers are expecting high or full occupancy for this weekend after facing dismal business in the days and weeks after the attacks. The Holiday Inn at the Inner Harbor, for example, had laid off a quarter of its 180-person staff, while other hotels trimmed employee hours.

But Pete Komar, general manager of the Holiday Inn, said he's since invited back most of those employees, thanks to a "very, very, very good" recent upswing in business, and hopes to keep most of them on through November.

"We have very high expectations for this weekend," he said. "We're not quite full tonight, but we'll be full through the weekend, especially Friday and Saturday.

"Fortunately, we've got a lot of convention activity, but the rest of it is people who want to come down and see Mr. Ripken make that last homestand."

Many hotels and restaurants lean heavily on a steady influx of convention-goer dollars. The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association reported that four, possibly five, conventions out of 25 have been canceled through the rest of the year. But two conventions and a symposium this weekend will bring in more than 12,000 people, said Carroll R. Armstrong, BACVA's president and chief executive.

The three events are the Door and Hardware Institute's annual convention, the American Society for Surgery of the Hand's annual meeting and the International Microelectronics and Packaging Society's Symposium. This weekend is "very important, extremely important," Armstrong said.

But several hotels said they are smarting from the drop in corporate and leisure travel since the attacks and continue to shorten some employees' hours. And they haven't ruled out further layoffs, despite the expected boost in sales this weekend.

John L. Daw, general manager of the Renaissance Harborplace on Pratt Street, expects a 100 percent occupancy rate this weekend. But the hotel will continue to keep some employees' hours trimmed until occupancy rates improve and stabilize in the near term.

"We hate losing Cal as a city," Daw said, "but for the hotel business, it's been a significant impact, because everyone wants to see him play."

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