by Doug Desjardins
Coming off a dismal year in which vacancy rates soared, the hotel industry is hoping to get 2010 off to a good start with bargains on weekend getaways timed for Valentine's Day.
Hotels are in a promotional mood after a difficult year in 2009. According to Smith Travel Services, occupancy rates at U.S. hotels fell 8.3 percent as the recession forced cutbacks in both business and leisure travel. Occupancy rates for the year averaged 55 percent and are expected to inch up to just 57.2 percent by the end of 2011. The decline forced hotels in most cities to cut rates in an effort to attract travelers, with major destinations like Las Vegas and New York City leading the way.
Smith Travel is expecting business to remain essentially flat in 2010 - it's forecasting a decline of 0.2 percent for the year - and that means hotels will have to work hard once again. But that's good news for bargain hunters looking for inexpensive weekend getaways, particularly since Valentine's Day falls on a Sunday this year.
Hotels in Las Vegas are hoping to improve on what is typically a slow month with a slew of specials. The Monte Carlo Resort has cut room rates to $60 per night for Valentine's Week with $20 credits for spas and room service included. Hotels owned by MGM, including the MGM Grand, are cutting prices by $50 per night per room and including two free tickets to the Cirque du Soleil. And the Luxor has rates starting at $69 with six chocolate covered cherries and what it calls a "romance kit" included free of charge.
The upscale Renaissance Hotel chain is teaming with Dylan's Candy Bars for a Sweetest Suite Valentine's Package from Feb. 11 - 15. The package offered at most of the chain's 140 hotels includes a complimentary bottle of champagne, breakfast for two, a $100 voucher for a future stay and a Dylan's Candy Bar chocolate heart and a three-pack of Valentine's Day treats.
Some hotels are taking a counter-approach by promoting special "un-Valentine's Day" rates for singles. The William Henry Inn in New York is offering a rate of $165 a night on Feb. 15 that includes two free meals for people who mention the "un-Valentine's Day" special. The Whitney Inn in Jackson, NH is promoting a three-night ski weekend special for $499 that includes free lift tickets at Black Mountain Ski Resort, a welcome reception and special Chairlift Speed Dating event. And for recently-scorned women, The Avenue Inn in New Orleans has a three-night package on Valentine's Day weekend for $369 that includes a free DVD copy of He's Just not that Into You, a massage, streetcar passes, two pints of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and a voodoo doll with pins and a marker.