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Hotels are cautioned on Super Bowl rates

Super Bowl XXV is nearly a year away, but hotel managers on both sides of the Bay are already worried about possible room shortages and price gouging that plagued New Orleans last month. As long as that concern doesn't turn into panic, Tampa Bay's spotless reputation as a host won't be soiled, NFL special-events director Jim Steeg told a group of about 100 hotel managers Friday.

"Don't get caught up in it being Super Bowl week," Steeg said. "It's really Super Bowl weekend because fans don't arrive until Thursday or Friday. Use your business judgment and don't panic that you won't sell out. New Orleans hit the panic button and paid the price."

Steeg said the New Orleans hotel industry, in the wake of poor turnouts for recent Sugar Bowls and the 1988 Republican National Convention, sold huge blocks of rooms to tour brokers.

Those brokers then in turn can charge whatever rate for a room they want and can get. And many did. For example, some rooms that usually would go for $100 a night were booked by brokers for $500.

"We have to be careful of the block-bookings," said Ralph Chapman, the chairman of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Task Force's accommodations committee. "We've been talking to them (hotel managers) for the last three years.

"There's no way to prevent it if somebody really wants to do it.

All we can do is apply peer pressure."

Steeg said Tampa Bay can expect an influx of nearly 80,000 people for the silver anniversary game on Jan. 27, 1991, which means a need for about 40,000 rooms.

Barbara Casey, the director of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Task Force, said there are 16,000 rooms in Hillsborough County, 23,000 more in Pinellas and another 73,000 in Orlando. And Orlando may be the key.

"In New Orleans, if people weren't within five minutes of Bourbon Street, it was like they weren't even staying in New Orleans," Steeg said. "But I don't think you'll have that problem here because Orlando is so close."

Managers seemed guardedly optimistic that they can successfully avoid the pitfalls after Steeg's hourlong talk.

"This was great," said Terry Graber, the general manager of the North Redington Beach Hilton. "I think we'll be better off because of this (meeting) and we'll be better hosts. We won't have the problems with no rooms and price gouging."

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