Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

North Pinellas hotels expect big business boost from Tampa's Republican National Convention

CLEARWATER

Forgive your local hoteliers for the dollar signs in their eyes: They're preparing for the business equivalent of what one called "seven Super Bowls in one." With hotel assignments announced last week for delegates who will attend the Republican National Convention in Tampa Aug. 27-30, North Pinellas resort leaders are bracing for a windfall during what is normally one of the sleepiest tourism weeks of the year.

"In late August? You couldn't dream this one," said Jack Guy, a spokesman for Sheraton Sand Key, who predicted that hosting the delegates from Oregon and Illinois would triple his resort's typical business. "This is just a golden egg."

Ten North Pinellas hotels will host 16 delegations — including those from New York, Florida, Puerto Rico and American Samoa — for the Republican convention, which will usher Tampa Bay onto the national stage. Most local hotels expect full bookings and plentiful profits from providing rooms, meals, meeting space and entertainment.

And the announcements last week are just the start. Only a third of the convention's 105 designated hotels and just under half of their 16,000 rooms are set aside for convention delegates. Other facilities not part of last week's announcement — including behemoths like Clearwater Beach's swank Sandpearl Resort and Hyatt Regency — will likely house Republican staffers, the media and others among the convention's 50,000 visitors.

The convention, North Pinellas hotel leaders said Friday, couldn't come at a better time: four weekdays in the slow "Twilight Zone" between summertime family vacations and the post-Labor Day resurgence of corporate retreats.

Hotels that would have been half-empty then have allocated about 90 percent of their rooms to the convention. The six-story Wyndham Garden Clearwater Beach, where all 110 rooms are reserved for Kentucky convention delegates, is considering hiring new employees to help cope with the crowds.

Republican Party representatives will coordinate many of their delegates' needs, like the hundreds of buses that will be required to ferry them from Pinellas to the convention site, the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa. Party officials from across the country will begin flying here this month to check on rooms and organize events.

But hotel leaders will still face a host of demands they wouldn't see in a typical week. For example, delegates will expect to be served breakfast all at the same time, will return from Tampa in the late hours, and will seek some meal variety over the course of their weeklong stay.

"When you feed 350 people for breakfast, you have to be very efficient," said Marriott Suites general manager Philippe Eversdijk. And he added, "People don't eat steak five nights a week."

Some new services may be available, and even some new facilities.

For example, at the Sheraton Sand Key, where delegates could fill more than 300 rooms, a third-party vendor will be allowed to set up shop to sell RNC merchandise.

And Shephard's Beach Resort, which is hosting South Dakota delegates, is rushing to double the size of its waterfront stage.

Although hoteliers may be spending some money to prepare for the influx, they are expecting something in return: advertising. Many hope that delegates will return home with high praise for North Pinellas' bays and beaches, its palm trees and water views.

"It's going to be a very, very nice piece of business. No doubt about it," Wyndham Garden general manager Nigel Duffett said. "This is an opportunity to show it all off."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

     
     
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