Hotels vie for awards season talent

Black-tie events benefit local lodging industry

There’s a very serious competition coming up — and it’s not the one between the studios and agencies. During awards season, Los Angeles’ top hotels vie for top talent, not with room discounts, but with perks, amenities and bend-over-backward service.

“Awards season is essentially high season in Los Angeles,” says Jason Pomeranc, prexy of Thompson Hotel Group, which oversees the Hollywood Roosevelt and the debuting Thompson Beverly Hills. “It’s not just about the celebrities and the industry, it’s about everything that’s related to it: the fashion, the jewelers, the media … it’s become this global frenzy, all centered around L.A.”

Awards season tends to benefit a hotel’s brand and bottom line year round. For instance, media coverage during the Academy Awards is unequalled, notes Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. (LAEDC).

“Remember it’s a very competitive town when it comes to five-star hotels, and anything that would give an edge would be seen as very positive,” says Kyser. Per LAEDC research, the Academy Awards are estimated to produce a $200 million net economic impact, and of that figure, $2.5 million goes to hotels. However, that amount does not include the entire dance card of events, such as the People’s Choice, Golden Globes, SAG and Spirit Awards, that also generate hotel stays. Toss the 50th Grammy Awards (Feb. 10) into the mix, and the appeal of awards season to hoteliers is crystal clear.

Long before nods are announced, the most-coveted suites are already booked, sometimes a year in advance. Additionally, hotels block out rooms for repeat clients. And come Oscar night, don’t expect any Auto Club discounts: Hotels must be booked at full rack rate, often with a multinight stay required.

As Carol Watkins, director of entertainment sales at the Four Seasons at Beverly Hills, explains, she could fill the 285-room hotel two to three times over current capacity. In 2007, the hotel welcomed 55 Oscar nominees, many of whom had previously stayed there during press junkets. Because of Oscar’s date change from March to February, the season is now much more compressed. “Guests have to check in and stay for longer periods of time; previously they used to come and go,” Watkins notes. “It’s just so concentrated, it puts pressure on everybody.”

While studios scramble to plan parties in the shorter time frame, hotels are already in prep mode, adding amenities and completing renovations.

Recent upgrades include the opening in early November of 40 new, ultra-private villas, complete with 24-hour butler service, at the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood, a favorite of Grammy-goers.

Raffles L’Ermitage will launch its new private screening room Oscar week. Expect the Beverly Wilshire to relaunch its rooftop party suite and serve up film- and TV-themed cocktails at the Blvd in honor of the Golden Globes, like the Devil Wears Pravda vodka martini.

Celeb dermatology line Leaf & Rusher has partnered with the Four Seasons Spa for an exclusive Red Carpet facial. And the Beverly Hills Hotel recently opened its swank Bar Nineteen 12 aimed squarely at industryites.

All across town, concierges are on high alert, whether to secure rabbit feet or Russian-English dictionaries (as Charles Hawkins of the Four Seasons BevHills has been asked to do) or just have seamstresses and black-tie tiers on call, as James Little at the Peninsula BevHills routinely does.

On the horizon in 2008 are a number of new hotel properties that will add additional room inventory for the 2009 season.

“Los Angeles has never been a city that’s overbuilt with hotels,” explains hotel exec Daniel Howery, chief operating officer of the Palmer Hospitality Group. Occupancy rates are over 80% in Beverly Hills year round. “There aren’t an extraordinary number of hotels on the Westside or in Beverly Hills,” Howery notes.

He predicts the approximately 200-room Montage Beverly Hills (sister property of the super-posh Montage Resort in Laguna Beach) will do quite well.

Also upcoming are the SLS Hotel (the former Le Meridien) from the SBE Hotel Group with high design by Philippe Starck and the London West Hollywood (formerly the Bel Age Hotel). Both the Ritz-Carlton and Mandarin Oriental Hotel chains are slated to open in downtown L.A. within a few years, close to the Nokia Theater, possibly the Oscar telecast’s future home.

But most important to contenders: Is there such a thing as a lucky room? Pomeranc says that the penthouse at his 60 Thompson in Gotham is. The hotel hosted the actor Oscar winner a month before the ceremony five years in a row. The Peninsula Beverly Hills houses an average 10 Acad winners per year Oscar night. Per the Four Seasons BevHills spokeswoman Sarah Cairns, where 20% of nominated guests came home with statuettes in 2007, “Every room is lucky at the hotel.”

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