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For Hub's hotels, bases are loaded

Hospitality managers gingerly aim to please last-minute VIP's

By Nicole C. Wong
Globe Staff / October 25, 2007

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The deluge of World Series spectators sweeping through the city this week is leaving even the high and mighty without a place to sleep: An official from the company that owns the Ritz-Carlton Boston Common hotel couldn't even get a room last night.

"He was going to spend the night with us," said Barbara Lootz, the Ritz-Carlton's director of sales and marketing, yesterday after giving the visiting Millenium Partners executive a tour of the hotel's renovation work. But, she added, "he can't anymore because we are sold out. So he's going back to New York."

October is already the busiest month of the year for Boston hotels with conventions and business trips wedged between summer vacation and the winter holidays, parents visiting their kids at local universities, and travelers flooding in to see the fall foliage. So while Boston hoteliers usually welcome any event that pours thousands of visitors into the city, the World Series is turning out to be a bit of a headache.

XV Beacon, a 60-room boutique hotel, is paying overtime for an additional employee to answer the phones during the day - to apologize to the stream of callers about the lack of availability. And many hotel managers whose rooms sold out before the Red Sox won a spot in the World Series now have to delicately find ways to accommodate their best customers, who are suddenly asking for favors.

It's a balancing act. For instance, Boston Harbor Hotel's general manager, Paul Jacques, who almost never touches the reservations, this week is making sure all cancellations and room requests funnel through his office so he can pair any freed up rooms with loyal customers. The director of sales and marketing at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers, Greg Clark, has been secretly holding the presidential suite open to reward a frequent, big spender who might call at the last minute.

And the managing director of the Hotel Commonwealth, Terry Guiney, has been combing through the reservations trying to spot double bookings, calling groups that are holding blocks of rooms to see if they need all of them, and even meeting three times a day with his management team to sort through new cancellations and VIP requests.

"The last thing you want to do is upset a preferred customer, a frequent customer, by not having availability for them - particularly during a busy week," said Paul Sacco, president of the Massachusetts Lodging Association. "This is the time that they prove to their guests that they're important."

It's particularly hard for hotels to reward loyal customers right now. October hotel occupancy rates in the Greater Boston area have been climbing every year to 86.8 percent in 2006, up from 84.4 percent in 2003, according to the lodging association. This month, 88.2 percent of the local hotel rooms are expected to be filled - but that forecast was calculated three months ago, long before the Red Sox secured post-season play.

Some hotels say their occupancy rate this month is closer to 100 percent.

That means Robert Cioffi, of New Canaan, Conn., is one lucky fan. At the last minute, he secured four World Series tickets for tonight's Game 2 and two rooms at the Boston Harbor Hotel.

"The tickets, frankly, were easier to get than the hotel rooms," said Cioffi, who bought the Fenway seats Monday through a broker and will root alongside his two brothers and their father.

As soon as he claimed the tickets, Cioffi tried to make reservations online and on the phone at every Boston hotel he could think of. But every place was sold out. An Internet search said the closest bed was in Needham. And American Express' travel office told him the best it could do was a hotel in Providence.

So the venture capitalist called and e-mailed everyone he knew in Boston. One of his contacts, whose firm works in the same complex as the Boston Harbor Hotel, forwarded his message to Jacques with the subject line: "Do you have any pull with any hotels here in Boston?" In the body of the e-mail, he pleaded: "I'm ready to pay whatever."

When two rooms shook free late Tuesday, Jacques sold them to Cioffi for $750 each.

"It's always a little bit easier when you know someone on the inside," said Jacques, who slipped in six of his hotel's VIPs who are headed to Games 3, 4, or 5 into downtown Denver's Marriott, where his brother is a manager.

If the Sox return to the World Series next year, it should be a bit easier for travelers to find pillows to lay their heads. Marriott's 472-room Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel is scheduled to open in January, the 150-room Regent International in April, and the 148-room Mandarin Oriental in the summer.

Since those are still on the horizon, Boston tourism guru Patrick Moscaritolo had to scour the suburbs for the more than 1,200 rooms that Major League Baseball suddenly said it needed on a few days' notice. League officials, media, and sponsors like Nike, XM Radio, and MasterCard are scattered in hotels from Braintree to Brookline and even Dedham, Danvers, and Framingham.

But Moscaritolo learned his lesson from the 2004 World Series, when he housed the St. Louis Cardinals in the Marriott in Quincy because it was the only property that had 125 rooms available: The Colorado Rockies are staying at The Westin Copley Place.

"Unlike what happened in 2004," said Moscaritolo, president of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, adding that "nobody can complain that the reason they lost was they weren't in Boston."

Nicole C. Wong can be reached at nwong@globe.com.

Correction: Because of an editing error, a story in yesterday's Business section about hotels scrambling to accommodate guests during the World Series misidentified two hotel executives. Paul Jacques is Boston Harbor Hotel's general manager. Greg Clark, whose name was omitted, is the director of sales and marketing at Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers.

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