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A Coalition Public Event Promoters in Monterey, California Launch Web Site Featuring
 Hotels Designated as Preferred Providers;
Seeks to Stop Price Gauging During Periods of High Demand

By Marie Vasari, The Monterey County Herald, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 23, 2007 - A coalition of major public event promoters in Monterey County has launched a Web site featuring lodgings designated as Preferred Providers.

Sixteen properties, ranging from high-end luxury resorts to a motel, were selected based on several criteria, including policies for pricing and cancellations during special events.

The site, www.montereypreferredprovider.com, featured five luxury hotels, four bed and breakfasts, one motel and six inns when it was launched Wednesday.

The Monterey County Event Promoters Taskforce was formed in the aftermath of the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix of 2005, which set motorcycle race fans on edge when some area lodgings inflated rates to double and triple their typical nightly fees and in a few cases illegally cancelled existing reservations, rebooking rooms at higher rates.

Racing fans, a tight-knit group with a multitude of racing publications, online chat rooms and forums, buzzed angrily about Monterey County's lodgings for months, and residual emotions still linger.

The task force's aim is to provide out-of-town visitors, particularly those who come to town for a special event such as the MotoGP race, the Monterey Bay Blues Festival or Big Sur Marathon, with a list of fair and reasonable lodging choices. The group, which includes members from the Big Sur Marathon, Dixieland Monterey, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey Bay Blues Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival, California Rodeo Salinas, the Sea Otter Classic and Tri-California Events, sent out applications to 156 area lodgings requesting data on their pricing policies for special event weekends, cancellation policies, amenities, minimum night stay requirements and group rates.

Those that raised rates more than about 20 percent above seasonal rates or required more than three-night stays of customers during special event weekends were excluded from the Preferred Providers list, said Julie Cavassa, of Vincent Guarino Public Relations, which coordinated the process.

Cancellation policies were also taken into account. While 24 hours may be adequate in off-season, many lodgings require more notification during peak season and during a special event weekend, and some require from 72 hours up to a week. More than a week's notification was judged excessive and cause for rejection by the group, she said.

"If there's a hotel in Salinas that is normally $93 a night, and they raise their rates to $1,000 a night during the MotoGP," said Cavassa, "they're not going to get on the list."

The properties on the list either do not raise rates for special events or do so only slightly, said Cavassa.

"They have their summer rates and that's what they charge," she said, "regardless of what's going on in town."

Properties on the Preferred Provider Web site are classified by lodging type and the level of service and amenities they offer, which helps visitors know what to expect and what's priced appropriately, said Cavassa.

The group rejected about 10 percent of the applications that it received, and some properties, still the object of complaints to the task force, did not submit applications at all.

But there's a large percentage of lodging properties that simply didn't respond to the survey, and Cavassa said she hopes some of them respond and meet the criteria for inclusion on the list.

Having a way to ensure that visitors don't leave Monterey County with bad feelings about their stay is vital to the future of the region's tourism industry, said Cavassa.

The problems have been caused by a small percentage of properties, she said, but the impact is widely felt.

"I think our problem in the past has been that there are very few, not more than a handful that say, 'I'm going to take advantage of the situation,' said Cavassa. "We're trying to get the good stuff out there and work with the properties and the visitors when they come here because then, everybody wins."

Visitors who get treated fairly will return to the Peninsula for future visits, which benefits the region economically.

"If they don't," said Cavassa, "we have competition, and they're not going to be back."

The task force plans to promote the Preferred Provider list through some of the racing fan Web sites and publications, as well as through local event organizers.

"We really want the properties to do well, to make money and to pay their employees well, because that benefits the community," said Cavassa. "We also need people to come back. And that's the balance between what's fair and what's going to chase people away."

Marie Vasari can be reached at 646-4478 or mvasari@montereyherald.com.

Lodging properties who want to apply for the Preferred Provider Web site can download an application form from www.montereypreferredprovider.com or by calling Julie Cavassa at 657-9700.

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To see more of the Monterey County Herald, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.montereyherald.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Monterey County Herald, Calif.

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