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Baltimore hotels project rise in revenue this fall

Baltimore-area hotel revenues are projected to be on the rise in October and November, thanks in part to increased attendance at conventions.

Visit Baltimore, the official convention sales and marketing arm of the city, projected Monday that groups will spend $47.3 million this and next month, an 18 percent increase over October and November 2009.

Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, said the rising numbers are partially a result of opening the Hilton Baltimore at the Inner Harbor.

“When we announced we were building the Hilton Hotel, customers started taking note that we were a better convention city,” Noonan said. “They started looking to [book events in] 2010 and 2011. It made us a better convention market, and we’re starting to see the results of that.”

Though he sees a strong year ahead for conventions and other events, he projects that there will be even better growth farther out.

“The groundwork is already in place,” Noonan said. “This coming January will be the typical winter, with the public shows, and the summer should be a great summer, because of things like the [NCAA] lacrosse Final Four, the [Indy Racing League], the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and we have some good shows coming.”

Noonan added that the low 2008 numbers of 58 percent occupancy were a result of both a tough economy and an increase of 2,500 rooms.

“I will tell you that in 2008 and 2009 we actually sold 2 percent more rooms than the year before that,” he said. “But the city just couldn’t keep up with the inventory influx.”

Ed Rudzinski, area general manager for the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, said he has seen similar increases in occupancy over this time last year. Rudzinski said not only are they experiencing increased business from convention center events, but they are booking more of their own events as well.

“This is not the experience we had over the last two years with the slippage we would have in a downturn, where a group would book 300 rooms, but then slip down to 220,” Rudzinski said. “Now the groups, whatever they bought they’re actually picking up, and in some cases they’re picking up more than they initially booked. And we’re actually in a small overbook situation this week.”

Rudzinski said he is optimistic that the Marriott Waterfront, at Harbor East, will be on track by next year.

“Sometime next year, we’re full expecting to be back to 2007 levels, which was a record year for us,” he said.

Even hotels a little farther from the Inner Harbor are experiencing increased business this month. Brian Conyers, general manager of the Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore, said that although he could not speak to November’s numbers, the Radisson will make about 40 percent more in rooms revenue over October of last year.

“We’re seeing almost three times the amount of group bookings this month of last year,” Conyers said. “A lot of time we don’t get the same list as the hotels in the Inner Harbor get, but [when there’s a large concentration of conferences and conventions], other groups are then forced to come north of Baltimore Street.”

Even with the higher number of hotel rooms in the city, Baltimore will likely return to the 70 percent occupancy rate it saw before the recession, Noonan said.

“I think last year we were in the upper 50 percents, this year we’re in the low to middle 60s,” Noonan said. “I would love to see us grow back over 70 percent at some point. The fact of the matter is that we’re starting to see some occupancy recover, and starting to see a lot more groups in town, so it will be a bright future for us.”

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