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Four Weeks After Ike - Southeast Texas
 Hotels Are Full and Will Be for a While
By Ryan S. Clark, The Beaumont Enterprise, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 8, 2008 - BEAUMONT -- Southeast Texas hotels are full, and lodging industry managers say the "no vacancy" sign will be up for a while.

And Hurricane Ike is the explanation.

Some inns still are waiting to reopen because of damage from the Sept. 13 storm.

Others are filled with contractors and relief workers.

And they're going to be there for a while.

"At this time, it's very difficult to get a room," said Dean Conwell, executive director of the Beaumont Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"I hear stories of people going from hotel to hotel trying to find a room. It's a crapshoot."

The demand for hotels has been so great that the bureau receives around 30 to 35 calls a day about hotel rooms, which is up from pre-Ike average of five calls a day.

There are nearly 4,000 hotel rooms in the greater Beaumont area, he said.

Conwell said the CVB has been staying in contact with hotels about vacancies on a daily basis and have set up a list of hotels that have some vacancies.

Rooms are snapped up quickly. Conwell said the best time to pounce is during or after check-out.

The shortage has elbowed its way into tournaments and other functions scheduled in the near future.

Conwell said the bureau has worked with organizers from a softball tournament that is taking place this weekend.

"Some of the hotels are honoring their contracts," he said. "It's really hit and miss at this point."

Barry Miller, general manager of the Holiday Inn on Walden Road, said the hotel has been working with the CVB to coordinate conventions that were scheduled before the storm.

Miller said convention coordinators understand the situation when it comes to the hotel's condition.

Workers are replacing drywall and damaged windows at the Walden Road property, he said.

"We have told people they can still have their conventions here, but they cannot stay because of the damage we have," he said.

"If they don't mind primer paint being on the walls, then we are more than happy to have them here."

Miller said the Holiday Inn will reopen in six to eight weeks after suffering major damage to different sections of the building.

Holiday Inn was able to work with the hotel to relocate its guests to another location near the area, he said.

He said the only people staying in the hotel are contractors working on the building and some of his staff members whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged.

Michelle Moore, 32, is a housekeeper who has been staying in a hotel room with her husband and three children, who are 7, 10 and 14 years old.

The Beaumont resident said her roof was ripped off her home, and her kitchen ceiling collapsed.

Mold also is growing in her home.

"It's been good to stay here because I am on time every morning," she said with a laugh. "The hotel has taken really good care of us who have been staying here by feeding us three meals a day for free."

Ashley Johnson, who works at the Super 8 in Mid-County, said a private contractor bought out the hotel for the next couple of months to give its Bridge City workers and their families a place to live.

Johnson added that the families were given access to washers and dryers operated by housekeeping so they could have some sense of normality while staying at the hotel.

"All of the kids are going to school and when they come back we are trying to make everything feel like home for them," she said.

"Despite the fact these people lost everything, we have a really nice group of people here."

There are still customers approaching the hotel although a "no vacancy" sign is posted on the front door, she said.

Similar to the CVB, Super 8 has created a list of available hotel rooms in the area to help out those looking for a room.

Johnson said they have had little luck with a hotel in nearby Groves.

"All the hotels along Memorial Boulevard, I would say are all pretty booked," she said.

"It's first come, first-served, and roughly around 3 p.m. is check-out, and that is when everyone starts pouring in to see if there are rooms. And after 5 p.m., they either go to Groves or somewhere else."

Jamy Church, general manager at the Hampton Inn on Walden Road, said he has spoken to regular customers who have reserved rooms in places such as Winnie, Sulphur, La., and Lake Charles, La.

Katie Harrington, spokeswoman for the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau, said hotel availability has been tight since Ike hit.

In addition to Texans looking for a place to stay, the hotels have been a home to relief workers in Cameron Parish, La., residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm.

She said of the 4,500 rooms in the Greater Lake Charles area, there were 20 available through Friday.

"That number was from our availability list that was created on Monday," she said.

"We are seeing a handful of rooms, but for the most part properties are full."

Church said the loss of business to places such as Lake Charles is hurting employees who have not returned to the hotel.

Since the hotel has been closed since the storm due to hurricane damage and the only people staying there are the contractors making the repairs.

That in turn has led to only about 40 percent of his staff being able to work despite the fact that nearly 100 percent of his workforce is back in town.

"I don't know how they are doing it," Church said about his non-working employees who are trying to make ends meet.

"But as soon as we open up for business they are more than welcome to come back."

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To see more of The Beaumont Enterprise, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.southeasttexaslive.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Beaumont Enterprise, Texas

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