March madness brings gladness to Boston-area hotels
The arrival of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament couldn’t have come at a better time for the beleaguered Boston hotel industry.
Thousands of fans from Duke, Pittsburgh, Villanova and Xavier streamed into the city this week to prepare for their teams’ Sweet Sixteen match-ups at the TD Banknorth Garden on Thursday and Saturday.
The Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates the tournament will generate $7 million this week for area hotels, restaurants, bars and arena concessions.
Boston submitted its bid for the tournament in 2004, when the economy was still booming.
“Little did we know what a shot in the arm this would be,” convention and visitors bureau CEO Pat Moscaritolo said.
Boston-area hotels have been hit hard by the dual downturns in corporate and leisure travel. Occupancy rates have fallen below 60 percent at many local hotels, and room rates are not expected to rebound until early 2010, according to PKF Consulting of Boston.
Eight hotels in Back Bay and the waterfront district were designated as hosts for the teams and other tournament-related visitors such as NCAA staff and alumni associations. The event will generate 3,000 room nights at the eight properties.
What’s not as clear is how much business the tournament will bring other hotels from fans booking their own rooms.
The 72-room Holiday Inn Express & Suites across from the Garden was virtually sold out for Thursday night, General Manager Karla Lyon said.
“So far, I’ve seen a couple of Duke sweatshirts in my lobby,” she said.
About 20 rooms were available for Saturday night starting at $189, Lyon said. Many fans were waiting to see if their team won Thursday before deciding to extend their stay through the weekend.
All 112 rooms at the Onyx Hotel near North Station were sold out Thursday night, but some rooms starting at $229 were available for Saturday, General Manager Bill Babis said.
“The Celtics, the Bruins and concerts have been keeping us going, but this definitely comes at a good time coming at the end of the month,” he said.
The NCAA men’s tournament last came to Boston in 2003, when the Garden hosted first-round games. This is the first time the city has hosted Sweet Sixteen action and the East Regional Final game.
With the Garden’s basketball capacity of less than 19,000, Boston is not considered a candidate to host a future Final Four. Since 1997, the NCAA has held its showcase event in domes with seating capacity of at least 30,000. This year’s Final Four will be held at Ford Field in Detroit, which holds 71,000.
Still, Moscaritolo said the scene in the jam-packed lobby of the Westin Copley Place hotel Thursday was far from ordinary. Vendors hawked T-shirts and caps for the top-seeded Pittsburgh team, which is staying at the hotel, as a Pittsburgh radio station broadcast live.
“This is as close as we’ve ever gotten to the environment that the big dance has,” Moscaritolo said.
Patriot Ledger writer Steve Adams may be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.