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Hillsborough hotels balk at request to lower rates for GOP convention

TAMPA — Organizers for the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa could be in for a tough time negotiating better deals with local hotels.

At a meeting of the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association on Thursday, Executive Director Bob Morrison said he's continuing to talk with convention officials. But he told the managers of Hillsborough hotels they need not budge on rates in year-old contracts for rooms during the August 2012 convention. Morrison said he's not aware of any hotel charging more than allowed under the city's convention bid.

''Almost to a person, they were 20 to 60 percent below what they could have charged,'' he said.

Last week, convention organizers told Hillsborough and Pinellas hotel managers that some contracted rates were too high. RNC officials said hoteliers needed to ditch year-old contracts.

What's more, they handed out forms to some hotels with lower "requested rates'' and asked the hotels to accept the new rates by today.

"You have the option to turn it in with the same rate (previously) quoted,'' Morrison told members of the Hillsborough association Thursday.

Convention organizers also wanted to jack up the commission hotels pay to help cover convention operating costs from $30 per room to 10 percent of each guest's hotel bill. The change would at least triple the commission paid by hotels, Morrison said.

The convention bidding rules allow hotels to charge as much as their highest rate for the month that falls 18 months before the convention — in this case, February.

The problem, said convention spokesman James Davis, is that February is a peak-season month for Tampa Bay hotels. Rates drop in steamy August.

"I think the time frame that was given was kind of a peak season, and we're in an off-peak season," Davis said. "We were looking to make sure that the rates are in line with industry data and the market for that time of year.

''We want to make sure that we have good rates that are good for the hoteliers as well as for the 50,000 people who are coming to the convention."

After the meeting, three property executives said they won't accept changes to their deals.

"Our position is we will comply with the terms of the contract," said Mary Scott, general manager of the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. The 717-room property in downtown Tampa is the county's largest hotel.

And what if hotels stick to their guns and submit forms with the same rates?

"Conversations will continue,'' Davis said.

The rate sheets are merely one step in the process, not the destination, he said. Among other things, convention organizers plan to visit every hotel.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the convention is too important to the city's image and the interests of both sides to keep fighting.

"I'm confident they won't let it implode over $5 or $10 a night,'' he said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Hillsborough hotels balk at request to lower rates for GOP convention 11/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2011 10:57pm]
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