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For Three Hotels, Inside the Perimeter of the San Jose
 Grand Prix Course, Checking In at the Front
 Door Is Not an Option
By David Pollak, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Jul. 26, 2005 - The Marriott has a supply of earplugs on hand for staff and guests. The hotel's in-room satellite TV package includes Speed Channel for the first time. Anyone who wants to ride the elevator needs to have a color-coded wrist band.

The race cars are ready to roll. And nowhere downtown will life be more disrupted than at the Marriott, Hilton and Crowne Plaza -- three hotels with 1,100 rooms that ended up inside the perimeter of the Taylor Woodrow Grand Prix of San Jose course.

"We started working on our Grand Prix game plan as soon as we found out we were going to be landlocked," said Clifton Clark, general manager of the Marriott. "The hotel is going to be a lot different."

No kidding.

Business competitors became collaborators as the three hotels -- along with the St. Claire, which, though just outside the perimeter, lost parking spaces to the race course -- worked with Grand Prix and city officials to identify problems and solutions.

For openers, there's the logistical challenge of getting overnight guests -- most of whom are there for the race and aren't expected to mind the hassle -- into a completely fenced-in area. Pulling up to the front door isn't an option.

Instead, the hotels have sent e-mails and letters directing guests to report to the Fourth Street Garage -- more than a half-mile away and the starting point for a parking and shuttle bus system whose costs are being picked up by Grand Prix organizers.

Hotel representatives at the garage will check to see if the driver's name is on the guest list -- "You don't want to have people poaching parking spots," Clark said -- then send them to designated spaces. Wrist bands will be issued, a different color for each hotel.

Other hotel employees will be on the scene -- handling baggage and guiding guests to the vehicles that will deliver them to one of two track entrance points. At kiosks there, another set of hotel employees will help people reach their destination.

Parking wasn't the only matter on the agenda when the hotels contacted guests.

Starting Thursday, a room reservation alone won't get them inside the fence. Race tickets are also required, though if guests make the case they aren't there for the event, exceptions will be made.

That shouldn't be too hard for reservations made before late March, when the race course was established. A small percentage of guests at each of the three hotels backed out when they learned of the race.

"It was maybe 5 to 10 percent," Hilton General Manager John Southwell said. "We had some small groups unrelated to the race who ended up elsewhere, but others still wanted to stay here."

The adjustments made by the hotels go beyond guest relations.

Routine deliveries -- clean laundry, food for the restaurants -- can only be made in the middle of the night. Employees are being urged to take public transportation.

But no one in the hotel business is complaining. July is normally slow and there's no doubt the race is an economic blessing.

Just how big is hard to calculate. All major downtown hotels are sold out Saturday night in advance of the main event Sunday; some rooms are still available Friday. And while the Marriott said it did not bump up room rates for the event, both the Hilton and the Crowne Plaza hedged, saying rates often vary week to week because of supply, demand and group sales.

Southwell did say that his hotel's suites -- with floor to ceiling windows and a perfect view of the Almaden Boulevard section of the race -- sold out quickly at $900 to $1,100 per night.

Both the Hilton and the Marriott said they weren't worried about outsiders trying to head to the elevators for a similar bird's eye view.

Color-coded wrist bands that guests and friends are required to wear, plus beefed-up security, should limit access to non-public areas.

Both the Hilton and Marriott sent staff to Long Beach in April for the Grand Prix there. Only one hotel -- the Grand Hyatt -- is surrounded by that track, and San Jose wanted to benefit from its experience.

"We said, 'Look, we've thought of a, b and c -- but tell us what we're missing,' " Clark said. "One of the things we learned at Long Beach is you'll sell a lot more food than you would have thought."

All three hotels are expanding their restaurant and bar offerings, not only for their guests but also for the more than 100,000 or so people expected to swarm across the track site over the three-day event. Lobbies are being turned into lounges, complete with additional plasma TV screens.

Not all the planned downtown partying will take place this weekend.

"We had one social function that we had to relocate," Clark said. "It was a bar mitzvah and you pretty much need valet parking with all the kids."


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Copyright (c) 2005, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.

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