- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2001

Inauguration revelers still can find some vacant hotel rooms in the District of Columbia but not for much longer.

The city's 24,800 rooms are filling up fast, despite an exhausting, long election and strict requirements by hotels including higher-than-usual room prices, payment up front and three- or four-night-minimum stays.

"We're anticipating all the major hotels in the city will be sold out," said Marilyn Matthews, co-owner of Washington D.C. Accommodations, a hotel reservation service.

D.C. Accommodations, which had volume for Inauguration weekend increase after Christmas, is taking about 20 to 30 reservations a day mostly from individuals and some small groups.

The Inauguration is Saturday, Jan. 20, but most hotel guests are arriving the Thursday before the event.

While phones at most reservation desks typically start ringing the day after an election, hotels with the rest of nation had to wait another 36 days before any plans could be finalized.

"There's a lot of inventory to fill up in a short period of time," Ms. Matthews said.

With two weeks left before the Inauguration, and that weekend's plans just starting to come together, hotel rooms still are available. Visitors just have to look for them.

Larger District hotels, like the 772-room J.W. Marriott and the 888-room Grand Hyatt, both in Northwest, already are sold out.

"There's quite a bit of demand, from what I understand," said Rand Goodman, director of marketing at the J.W. Marriott on Pennsylvania Avenue. The hotel had no cancellations after the election was finalized.

The 300-room Ritz-Carlton Washington D.C. had all but 20 rooms booked before the Nov. 7 election. Those 20 rooms were scooped up the day after Republican George W. Bush was confirmed the winner Dec. 13. Surprisingly, many of the rooms booked by Democrats were not canceled, said General Manager James McBride.

The hotel, at 1150 22nd St. NW, requires full payment before Monday's deadline prior to the four-night stay. After that, those rooms will be resold.

The bustling business from an Inauguration is good news for hotels, which often experience slack occupancy in January, falling slightly below 50 percent for the month, according to Robyn Goodwine, a spokeswoman for the Hotel Association of Washington D.C. In comparison, hotels are usually at least 80 percent full during April and May the beginning of the city's peak tourist season, which slowly falls as the summer goes on.

Last January, the hotel occupancy rate hit 52.2 percent and is likely to bump up between 5 percent and 10 percent this month, according to Brian S. Ullmann, director of marketing at the Washington D.C. Convention and Visitors Association.

President Clinton's first Inauguration in 1993 resulted in 91.9 percent hotel occupancy during the weekend. Hotels had about 79 percent occupancy during his second Inauguration weekend in 1997. Hotels raised prices and added minimum-stay requirements then, too.

Despite the delay in planning for the presidential celebration this year, Mr. Ullmann expects the city's hotels will be nearly 90 percent full during the Inauguration weekend.

Smaller, exclusive hotels are filling up fast, as well.

There is no room at the St. Regis Washington D.C., which has 179 rooms and 14 suites, at 16th and K streets.

"We are sold out and have been for quite some time, luckily," said General Manager Peter Walterspiel.

Before the election was decided, the hotel was booked evenly by Democrats and Republicans. Only a few reservations were canceled after the election was decided. The hotel requires a three-night minimum stay for rooms ranging between $500 and $950 an increase of about $200 a night for the weekend. The suites cost several thousand dollars.

The upscale hotelier even found a guest willing to dish out $100,000 for its Presidential Inaugural Package for four, which includes the two-bedroom Presidential Suite, private dinner party, inaugural gifts from Tiffany & Co. and Neiman Marcus, champagne and caviar, a full day of beauty treatment at a day spa, limousine service and monogrammed robes, among other perks.

Mr. Walterspiel would not reveal any details about the guest but said the package was sold last week.

The Ritz-Carlton has not had any takers for its $150,000, four-night Presidential Package, which includes a personal butler, a private jet to Washington, a personal message therapist, a set of Louis Vuitton luggage, a lifetime membership to the new Sports Club/LA in the District, two VIP seats at the inaugural parade and two weekend stays during the next three years until the next Inauguration.

Since the package has not been sold, Mr. McBride said he will make the decision next week to break up the package and sell the room separately. Five persons are on a waiting list for the room.

Those packages are over-the-top, but many hotel rooms in the city are more expensive than usual adding 20 percent to 30 percent to normal room rates during the Inauguration weekend, Ms. Matthews said.

"It's supply and demand," she said. "Hotels are using it to maximize revenue during a period that's typically [slow]."

Rates and restrictions for unsold rooms will drop as the Inauguration nears.

"I suspect interest and activity will persist up until the Inauguration," she said.

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