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For many hotels, Games may be no fun

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Although tens of thousands of guests will flock to Utah for the 2002 Winter Olympics and will need a place to stay, the news is not all good for those in the local hotel industry.

An estimated 21,000 rooms along the Wasatch Front will be booked during the Olympics.Experts say there will be ample lodging to accommodate all the Games visitors to Utah, and hotel owners are making plans to capitalize on the potential financial windfall they hope awaits them.

But the cold reality is, as with real estate, the most important factors that lead to financial prosperity are: location, location, location.

"Hotels that are successful are those in the central hub where the Olympics occur. The farther away your hotel is from the venue, the more risk you take," said Jim Hire, co-producer of the Rocky Mountain Lodging Report, which tracks occupancy and room rates for the hotel industry.

Hire was part of a panel that discussed various issues with the Utah Hotel and Lodging Association Friday at the Provo Marriott.

Hire has studied lodging at past Olympic sites like Calgary, Canada; Los Angeles; Lillehammer, Norway; and Atlanta to substantiate his forecast. "The hotels near the university (of Utah), Park City and downtown will be successful. Those hotels in outlying areas, in Weber and Utah counties, will not have good rentals."

Hire and other experts warned hotel owners that not all businesses will see an increase in clientele during the Games.

Many visitors will have an itinerary planned for them to visit designated sites and, as a result, some dining and lodging establishments will go unpatronized during the Olympics. And because few people will have cars, visitors will likely congregate in the same places - locations that are within walking distance of Olympic events or have access to free or inexpensive transportation.

"Restaurants and hotels near the venues will be very busy," Hire said. "Outside those venues, there won't be as much walk-around business. People who live in Utah won't go out to eat for fear of crowds."

Regular skiing visitors to Utah may also stay away because of the perception that there will be huge crowds, which probably won't be the case, Hire said.

"The number of destination skiers coming to Utah will decline dramatically. I'm projecting a severe decrease in skiers and hotel occupancy for the time right before and right after the Olympics," Hire said.

But still, Hire said, there's hope.

If the lodging industry in Utah will unite and launch an aggressive marketing campaign right away, that expected tourism slump could be abated.

"We need to remind people it won't be a complete zoo in Salt Lake City. There will be room availability," Hire continued. "Everybody needs to be working together. A consortium is a must. But you've got to start today."

Hire suggested lodging establishments get in contact with the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, which is in the process of booking rooms with area hotels for guests. According to Shelley Thomas, SLOC senior vice president for communications and public affairs, 15,000 of the 21,000 rooms required by SLOC for Games visitors, located on 135 different properties, have been contracted.

About 16,000 rooms are available in Salt Lake City, as well as 4,000 each in Utah and Weber Counties and an additional 3,000 in Park City, Hire said.

Thomas stressed to those in Utah's lodging industry the importance of making each Olympic guest's stay pleasant.

Her experience with service by her Japanese hosts at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, is embedded in her mind, she said.

"They made sure my laundry was done, that I got my faxes. They made it possible for me to do what I needed to get done. The language was a barrier, but their hospitality made up for it."