- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

Marriott owners in the Washington area plan to spend more than $50 million renovating all of the chain’s hotels in the District and many in the suburbs by the end of next year.

“We look at Washington, D.C., as a type of market that really gives an impression of what Marriott is all about,” said Jon Moore, regional vice president for marketing and electronic commerce at Marriott International Inc., which controls 25 percent of the hotel market in the District.

The hotels, which are operated by Bethesda-based Marriott but owned by companies such as Host Hotels & Resorts Inc., will undergo renovations of its lobbies or guest rooms to stay competitive in the Washington area.

Owners get final approval of a hotel’s renovations, but the management companies often initiate the process, analysts say.

“Marriott, as the owner of the brand, is telling their owners, ‘Look, it’s time to make these upgrades.’ If you want to stay in good graces with the brand, you do it or they’ll yank the flag,” said Jeff Randall, equity analyst for A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. in St. Louis.

“Marriott, Hilton , Starwood — they’ve been pretty hard-nosed,” Mr. Randall said. “They don’t want to go the way of the Holiday Inn, which suffered from a lack of cohesive product in the guests’ eyes.”

Host Hotels & Resorts, which owns three of the Marriott hotels in the Washington area, declined to comment on the record for this article.

The J.W. Marriott on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest and Marriott at Metro Center on 12th Street Northwest will get new lobbies and meeting spaces. The Washington Marriott on 22nd Street Northwest will get an updated lobby and guest rooms. The Wardman Park Marriott will be renovated late next year or in 2008, but those plans aren’t final.

Outside the District, four Marriott hotels are undergoing renovations. The top-floor restaurants at Arlington’s Key Bridge Marriott are being turned into a ballroom with floor-to-ceiling views of the city. In Crystal City, the Crystal Gateway Marriott will get new meeting and guest rooms and the Crystal City Marriott will get a new lobby, rooms and restaurant. A new lobby and restaurant are expected to be completed this year on the Tysons Corner Marriott.

In some guest rooms, Marriott is installing high-tech, IPod-enabled speakers and plasma televisions that can display a TV show and a laptop computer screen on a split screen. Last year, the chain upgraded the bedding in all of its guest rooms.

Mr. Moore says the renovations are designed to keep the hotels up to date, stylish and consistent.

“There are a number of factors we look to for what measures success: the profitability of a hotel and guest satisfaction, measured down to the most minute details,” he said. “How they felt about the guest rooms themselves, how they felt the guest room met the needs of technology, comfort and overall amenities.”

This year has been convenient for renovations, Mr. Moore said.

Across the board, hotel business is down in the District compared with a blockbuster year in 2005, although local Marriott officials insist that business is growing.

Hotel occupancy for the first nine months of the year was 70.4 percent in the Washington area, down from 73.4 percent last year, according to Smith Travel Research, a Hendersonville, Tenn., research firm. During the same time period, the average daily room rate rose 7.57 percent from $130.48 to $140.36.

“Last year was a really big year for hotels” in the city, said Liz DeBarros, a spokeswoman for the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C. “They spent a lot of time being busy and taking care of guests.”

This year, fewer citywide conventions have come to the Washington Convention Center, Congress has met the fewest number of days since President Truman was in office, and midterm elections have kept some travelers from coming to town to do business with Congress. All of these were factors in reduced hotel business.

But less business also means that fewer guests are inconvenienced by renovations.

Marriott isn’t alone in renovating, but it is leading the pack in the Washington area.

The St. Regis Hotel at 16th and K streets Northwest is closed until next fall for extensive renovations, and the Washington Plaza Hotel at Thomas Circle Northwest will be undergoing renovations until late next year.

The Four Seasons on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest and Park Hyatt at 24th and M streets Northwest have reopened recently after renovations of $25 million and $24 million, respectively.

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