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Football bowl game leads to overbooked Vinoy

Heather Richmond got a call from the Renaissance Vinoy Resort last week saying her reservation for two rooms Saturday was canceled. The hotel needed more space for a large group, a reservations agent explained.

A very large group, it turns out.

Officials of the St. Petersburg Bowl and the Renaissance Vinoy thought the Rutgers football team and staff would fly home to New Jersey after its Saturday night game against the University of Central Florida, said Russ Bond, the hotel's general manager.

When he learned Rutgers intended to occupy 300 of Vinoy's 361 rooms for another night, the staff scrambled to clear out reservations. Twenty-five to 30 customers had to go, Bond said.

Those like Richmond who booked on Marriott employee discounts were referred to other lodging. The Vinoy ''more likely" paid for guests to stay elsewhere, Bond said.

"It's not the way we usually do business," he said.

Exactly where communications broke down wasn't clear Monday. Officials of the 2-year-old bowl may have based their planning on the University of South Florida's shorter hotel stay for last year, said Jason Baum, a spokesman for the Rutgers athletic department.

"We informed them at the first opportunity we had to speak with the hotel Monday, Dec. 7,'' he said in an e-mail. "It was always our intention to stay Saturday night.''

Brett Delaney, the bowl's executive director, did not return telephone messages for comment Monday.

Even if he wanted to, Bond couldn't make the team leave. Under Florida law, guests can remain in rooms as long as they're paying the bill.

Hotels routinely overbook rooms to make sure as many as possible are filled.

About 10 percent of customers with reservations turn out to be no-shows. Usually, the Vinoy has to relocate only a handful of guests 10 or 12 days a year, Bond said.

A travel and real estate marketer in Fort Lauderdale, Richmond and her party of eight — all Rutgers fans — got rooms at the Holiday Inn SunSpree in St. Petersburg for Saturday.

"I figured somebody screwed up and overbooked," she said. "It's still not right. But I would have liked it better, if … it was a computer problem, and they told me my reservation was good."

Steve Huettel can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3384.

Football bowl game leads to overbooked Vinoy 12/14/09 [Last modified: Monday, December 14, 2009 10:13pm]
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