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Hotel Owners Chase Profits During Spring's College-style Craziness

By Douglas Hanks III, The Miami Herald
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

March 13, 2006 - Hotel owners chase profits during spring's college-style craziness

What does spring break mean for the Haddon Hall Hotel? Beer bottles in the hallway, noisy parties by the pool and some good, clean profits added to the bottom line.

''Last year we did very well with them,'' said owner Anita Krieger. ``And we had minimal amounts of problems.''

Haddon Hall belongs to a minority of South Beach hotels actively courting spring breakers, a market notorious for low rates and big messes. Though South Beach has seen a spring-break resurgence in recent years, few hotels openly market to that rate-sensitive niche.

''The kids just show up,'' said Stuart Blumberg, president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association. ``We don't advertise it. We don't promote it.''

Not so for Krieger, who each March sells about one-third of Haddon Hall's 123 rooms to spring-break wholesalers. Those wholesalers then offer marked-up travel packages to college students across the country.

Travel wholesalers need discount rates to turn a profit, but they've found Miami Beach a harder market in the recent years as more hotels move upscale. That hit hardest in the spring-break package business, where cheap rooms dominate.

''They can fill the rooms on their own,'' said Jake Jacobsen, vice president of Student Travel Services, a Maryland company selling spring-break packages. ``They don't need a wholesaler.''

But Krieger sees a significant upside in spring-break packages. While she charges discounted rates to the wholesalers, she also imposes a seven-day minimum stay requirement. That means steady revenue between weekends, the hardest-to-fill stretch in South Beach.

''They're a seven-day business,'' Krieger said. ``Is it as high as other people would pay? No. But the seven days help out.''

Hotel owner Alan Lieberman invites spring breakers to pile into the modest rooms at his seven small South Beach hotels.

''Our rooms are made for sharing, so bring 3 of your friends and have a Spring Break to remember!'' boasts the southbeachgroup.com website, which offers free nightclub passes with a seven-night stay.

''Anyone can sell out in the weekend,'' said Lieberman, who estimates 80 percent of his South Beach Group's room inventory will be booked by spring breakers this week. ``In South Beach, it's Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. That's the challenge.''

Spring breakers bring their own challenges. Party-time antics add to repair bills and maintenance costs. Sleeping four to a room increases cleaning times and laundry loads for sheets and towels. Noisy parties can leave other guests fuming.

''Typically if a guest is disturbed, they want that room for free,'' said Juliann McCain, sales and marketing director for the Charles Group's Days Inn South Beach, the Best Western Beach Resort and other mid-priced Miami Beach hotels. ``It becomes a costly situation.''

Charles Group Hotels estimates it sells about 25 percent of its rooms to spring-break travelers in the height of the spring season, but it recently cracked down with a 21-and-over limit on bookings, cash damage deposits and a generally sterner warning at check-in.

''We don't actively go after the business. But because we are on the beach, we are a focus for'' it, McCain said. ``You take the good with the bad.''

At Haddon Hall, Krieger sees more good than bad from her college-age guests. Three years ago, when MTV picked Miami to air its spring-break specials, Krieger led a film crew around the hotel to rouse sleeping guests.

''They knocked on people's doors and said, `Surprise! It's a Spring Break Break In,'' Krieger recalled, as she stood near the lobby's artificial Christmas tree festooned with shells and sailboats. ``I got a lot of publicity for it. It was very nice.

Krieger said Haddon Hall doesn't mind the annual spring-break craziness.

''We're pretty accommodating,'' Krieger said. ``They drink a tremendous amount of beer. The beer bottles line the hallway

''It's only for a couple of weeks,'' she added. ``If they get a little rowdy, so what?''

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To see more of The Miami Herald -- including its homes, jobs, cars and other classified listings -- or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.herald.com.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Miami Herald

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail reprints@krtinfo.com. 



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