- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Ah, the life. A butler draws your bath. The television is turned off, and after a night on the town, you have breakfast in bed with no dishes left in the sink. Dead leaves litter someone else's lawn.
Such is the life many Washington area residents are choosing when they opt for "a home away from home" at special rates in local hotels. For them, patriotism and the pleasure principle go hand in hand. Singly or in couples, they enjoy time away from home by taking advantage of the special offerings in local hotels and taking in the city's cultural opportunities as well.
This is travel without the bother of tickets and passports or any of the restrictions imposed on air passengers since the events of September 11. Whether intentional or not, such travelers' actions dovetail nicely with District Mayor Anthony A. Williams' efforts to lure to the city more visitors from the suburbs and beyond in hopes of stimulating the local economy.
There is no question that Washington hotels have suffered a falloff in business since the terrorist attacks. Dawn Poker, executive vice president of the Washington Convention and Tourism Corp., says hotel occupancy rates were at 64 percent locally and 63 percent nationally the last week of October, compared to 81 percent last year at that time.
"I can't speculate on what [the airplane crash in New York] will do," she says.
Businesses that depend on tourism have begun to respond. Ms. Poker reports that her organization has begun a cooperative effort among local businesses to present and promote areawide offerings of value. One example is the first-ever Washington Restaurant Week, running through Monday, during which 102 eating establishments are advertising lunch specials for $20.01 and dinner for $30.01.
As for the hotels, judge for yourself: A Bethesda woman who normally spends a week at her favorite California spa each fall decided to re-create the spa experience within a few miles of her home. Nervous about flying, she decided to ask the culinary and fitness professionals at Georgetown's Four Seasons Hotel how she and three friends could indulge themselves without the worry and hassle of airports.
The woman, who prefers to remain anonymous, consulted with the hotel's general manager about how to make such a novel arrangement possible. The hotel's chef produced low-calorie, high-energy meals similar to ones she would have been served at her regular getaway spot, the Golden Door. A special menu was created for three meals a day for the six days the group was in residence. The manager of the fitness club devised an intensive schedule of activities that included walking in Rock Creek Park and kayaking on the Potomac River in addition to massages and spa treatments.
Of course, it helped that the Four Seasons has a top-notch fitness club on the premises and, according to public relations director Tricia Messerschmitt, has not laid off any staff since September 11, unlike many other local hostelries.
Insisting that the hotel's "regular business has been strong despite the fallout," Ms. Messerschmitt also acknowledges that at least one of the hotel's new features, a video teleconferencing service to allow clients to connect face-to-face with one or more sites, "came about as a result of the attacks because many people couldn't or wouldn't get on an airplane."
The special treatment extended to area residents is unusual, she says, because "normally for the hotel, the D.C. market isn't a natural except for banquets and restaurants. We are having to be a little smarter and fleet of foot to reach out to new audiences."
The drop in Four Seasons' room rates between weekdays popular with business travelers and weekends is as much as $200.
Another Four Seasons client, Nancy Stevens of Potomac, promotions director for radio station WRQX-FM (Mix 107.3), says she inquired about safety factors downtown before deciding to splurge on her retreat. Reassured, she came ahead for her own personal outing.
"I felt I really needed it, to get away alone. Normally, I have children at home, but they were away that particular weekend. And I know that weekends are less expensive than during the week, when business people use the hotel," she says.
"This was related to everything," she says of her reasons for coming into the city, noting that in Potomac, "you can't walk anywhere." One advantage of the hotel's location, she says, is that fine restaurants are only minutes away. "You have a whole city of 'stuff' here," she says.
She walked through town, had treatments in the hotel spa, then went to Adams Morgan to meet friends for dinner. "Then I came back and slept in the amazing bed. In the morning, I hung out in my room and ate pancakes for breakfast. The hotel treats you better than anywhere else. It was worth every penny. I may go back before the holidays."

Reston pediatrician William Bekenstein and his wife, Fern, went to the Kennedy Center for this past Sunday's matinee of the Washington Opera's "Madama Butterfly" and opted to stay over at the Willard Inter-Continental. "Normally, we go to an event such as opera or a dinner party and drive right home again," Dr. Bekenstein says, contemplating beforehand the time they planned to spend at the hotel at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
Originally the couple had weekend plans to go to the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. Factors such as giving the local economy a boost influenced them to change their minds. "We haven't stayed in town for years. I remember we did it once at the old Ritz-Carlton for a New Year's Eve," Dr. Bekenstein says.
Taking advantage of the hotel's new Options program, the couple received 500 bonus frequent-flier miles plus a choice of half-price on a second room, a room upgrade, further bonus miles, overnight parking or an American breakfast for two. They chose to have breakfast downstairs in Cafe 1401, after which they were free to take in museums and pay a visit to their favorite pen store, Fahrney's at 1317 F St. NW, before heading home ahead of commuter traffic.
Likewise, Gregory and Stephanie Bland of Chevy Chase, Md., decided to squeeze in one perfect Sunday evening at the Willard this week by renting the hotel's presidential suite to celebrate the first anniversary of their marriage and dine at the Sequoia restaurant on the Georgetown waterfront, where they held their rehearsal dinner a year ago. A lawyer who is a partner in the D.C. Society of Young Professionals, Mr. Bland says they chose that particular hotel because of its beauty and stature as well as its prime location.

The Ritz-Carlton at 1120 22nd St. NW enticed Mickey and Marcy Berra from Annandale for a similar sentimental occasion this past weekend. They came to celebrate a belated 25th wedding anniversary that took place in May. Late Friday afternoon, Mrs. Berra picked up her husband at the Kennedy Center, where he is director of production, and drove the few blocks to the hotel.
After September 11, Mrs. Berra says, "we decided not to get on any airplanes." Needing a break in their routine nevertheless, they planned an overnight stay that included dinner in the hotel restaurant and a nightcap with friends at the Prime Rib nearby.
"Life is in front of us," says the ebullient Mr. Berra, who claims he would like to be "ambassador from the suburbs to the city. I love this city."
Conveniently enough, their son is away at college and their daughter, a high school senior, was visiting friends in Charlottesville. They vowed not to turn on the TV and instead to take in the amenities offered by the hotel. (These included a bathtub full of rose petals and souvenir pillowcases on which were printed their initials and the date of their marriage.)
"I'm a Ritz kind of guy," Mr. Berra said the next day.

Likewise, Jennifer and Scott Steele of Annapolis celebrated her 34th birthday early last month with a weekend visit to the Ritz-Carlton. The excursion away from their four children and the routines of daily life also was "to celebrate being alive," in Mrs. Steele's words.
The couple had dinner in a sushi bar within walking distance. She visited the in-house spa while her husband had a facial and that was after a butler had drawn their bath and they had been served champagne in their room.
"The next day we went to the bar for cocktails, and I worked out on Sunday," Mrs. Steele recalls, saying how much they relished the experience "to feel we are really away and have left everything at home." Fortunately, she says, she has in-laws living nearby to take care of their children in their absence.
"We have gone away for weekends before. It's very important for couples to do this occasionally. It worked for us because everything was OK. In fact, I want to go back," she says.
The Ritz-Carlton downtown and the Ritz-Carlton at Tysons Corner have packages designed especially to entice clients from the Greater Washington area, what they call their "drive" customers, in the wake of September's tragedy.
"We found through phone calls that many people were scheduled to go away for a special occasion but canceled for obvious reasons. So we created packages that would take the sting out of giving up their special-occasion vacation," reports Colleen Evans, public relations director for the Ritz-Carlton downtown, which is offering what it calls an anniversary package, a birthday-celebration Room Full of Balloons package, and a Drive-in Night that includes wine or beer and popcorn along with a movie in the guests' room.
The Tysons Corner Hotel came up with a weekend Shopping Spectacular that includes bargain overnight stays, a $50 gift certificate from Saks Fifth Avenue and breakfast, among other amenities. Ellen Gale, the hotel's public relations director, reports a greater-than-ever response to activities such as these that lead up to the forthcoming holidays. "More people calling for reservations earlier than ever before," she says.


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