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Long Island Hotels Report 10 to 15% Vacancy Rate for U.S. Open
Due to Lack of Corporate Sponsorships

By James Bernstein, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jun. 4, 2009--Seven years ago, the last time the U.S. Open was at Bethpage State Park, some Long Island hotels were sold out months before the event, room rates were uniformly high and mandatory stays were the rule.

Now, with the Open only a little over a week away, some hotels say they still have vacancies, others have dropped minimum stay restrictions and still others are offering such amenities as free Internet access.

"The general picture [for Long Island's hotel industry] is not as good" as it was in 2002, Mike Johnston, president of the Long Island Hotel and Lodging Association, said Wednesday. "You're not seeing as much compression as you did."

At the Long Island Marriott in Uniondale, about 15 percent of the rooms are still not rented for the Open week, June 15-21. "There's just not been an explosion" of room rentals as there was in '02, said Tom Gundersen, director of sales and marketing at the 600-room hotel. "You can feel it, demand is just not off the charts."

The recession has taken a big bite out of the local hotel and food services industry, which is a major component of the economy, employing some 74,600 people. That number is down from 75,800 in April 2008, according to state figures.

A key reason for the high vacancy rate -- which ranges from about 10 percent to 15 percent at many local hotels -- is the drop-off in corporate sponsorships. In 2002, 78 white-linen tents housed corporate sponsors at Bethpage. This year there will be 54 tents.

R. Moke McGowan, president of the Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the organization lowered expectations for the Open some months ago, when it learned about the decline in sponsors. McGowan said he expects hotels to fill most of their rooms this year, but rates will be lower, on average.

"We know everybody is competing for every bit of business they can," McGowan said. "They will make deals if they can."

The Marriott dropped minimum-stay restrictions, Gundersen said.

At the 304-room Huntington Hilton, which has fewer than 30 rooms still available for the Open, lower rates are offered for guests who check in Sunday or Monday than for those who arrive Tuesday or later, said Michael Newman, the Hilton's sales and marketing director.

Franklin Manchester, general manager of the Inn at Fox Hollow in Woodbury, said he expects the hotel's 145 rooms to be booked for weekend rounds, but added that "people are skipping the practice rounds" slated for the early part of the week. Manchester said the hotel is offering complimentary dinners Friday and Saturday night and a duffel bag holding golf balls, tees, a poncho in case of rain and towels for each guest -- amenities not offered during the '02 Open.

"We're seeing people trickle in," Manchester said. "But nothing like in '02."

The posh Garden City Hotel is not immune from the downturn. Nasser Samman, the hotel's general manager, said weekend days are booked, but weekday occupancies are in the 90 percent range. The hotel is offering free high-speed Internet access as an inducement, Samman said. "Everyone wants more value this time," he added.

Peter Guarnieri, general manager of the Roslyn Claremont Hotel, said the Open week is booked, but some guests are coming because Sunday is Father's Day.

"Some are not here strictly for the Open," Guarnieri said. "I don't think there's as much of a buzz as there was seven years ago. Seven years ago, [the Open] was the happening thing on Long Island."

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Copyright (c) 2009, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

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