|By William March, Tampa Tribune,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 04, 2011--TAMPA -- The head of the local hoteliers association denied Thursday that its members are seeking inflated rates for rooms during the 2012 Republican National Convention, and said the group has seen no evidence to justify the convention host committee's request for lower rates and higher booking fees.
Nonetheless, Bob Morrison, executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association, said the group will work with the convention planners, and expects a satisfactory resolution.
As if to underline that point, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn showed up to speak to the hotel group at a lunch meeting Thursday.
"You will be the face that they will see first, and the impressions that we leave will be largely based on their interaction with you," he told the group.
In comments to reporters, Buckhorn said the dispute can and should be resolved.
"They'll work it out," he said. "We're all grownups here. It's in everyone's interest for this event to succeed."
The hotelkeepers are unhappy because both the rates and the booking fee were specified in contracts they signed with the Tampa Bay Host Committee.
That, however, occurred before the Republican Party replaced its convention planning staff when Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was ousted in January.
"We looked at industry data, the current market, and some of them are too high -- not all of them," said James Davis, a spokesman for the GOP's Committee on Arrangements, which is planning the event. "We are going to meet with, work with, talk to them and come to a good resolution."
Asked about the contracts, he said the local host committee and not the Committee on Arrangements, holds the contracts, and he couldn't comment on them.
Neither host committee CEO Ken Jones nor a press spokesman returned calls for comment Thursday afternoon.
Convention planners recently hired Chicago-based onPeak, which reportedly sought the lower rates and higher booking fees.
An onPeak spokesman referred a reporter to Davis and the Committee on Arrangements.
The hoteliers were told last week that some of them must charge lower rates for their rooms, and all must pay a higher fee for room booking -- 10 percent of the guest's room bill instead of a flat rate of $30 per room.
That could triple or quadruple the fee depending on the hotel's rates for a typical five-night convention stay, Morrison noted.
Morrison said booking fees for 2008 Republican convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul were a flat rate of $25 per room.
Ron Alicandro, manager of the Westin Tampa Bay in Rocky Point, said both the request for a rate change and the fee increase "will have significant impacts on our bottom line."
As to the rates, Morrison said, "We have asked for and not received any examples of rates inconsistent with the contract. My data to date suggests the rates are consistent with the nature of the business, the increased costs our members are going to incur and delivery of service for a unique event."
Because of increased security and staff costs, he said, "this is not comparable to a typical Shriner's convention, or a family of four going to Busch Gardens."
"The contract doesn't have a reopening provision," meaning a provision for changing it after it's signed, he added.
Comments from some hotelkeepers suggested the wording of the contract could have led to the problems by allowing them to base their rates on their midwinter peak, the highest rates of the year for most Florida hotels.
The contract says the hotels must provide convention-goers the best rate in existence 18 months prior to the beginning of the convention. That means February of this year.
Most hotels didn't ask for their peak rates, Morrison said. "I haven't talked to one that wasn't 20 percent to 60 percent below what they could have asked according to the contract," he said.
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