Universal's new Royal Pacific courts meetings

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ORLANDO -- The newly-opened Royal Pacific Resort, the third Loews-operated, on-site hotel at Universal Orlando, was still under construction in late 2001 when the park's two other properties were posting cancellations of meetings and group business in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

But although bookings for those markets now are "back to normal," according to Michael Sansbury, Loews regional vice president, the 1,000-room Royal Pacific is cutting better-than-usual deals for the meetings and group segments.

The main reason for these deals is that meeting planners are being "tougher" when negotiating rates, said Sansbury, who attributed this to the fact that "other hotels in Orlando and elsewhere" have cut rates.

After Sept. 11, it is not unusual for a corporate meeting requiring 500 rooms to request space only 45 days before arrival, Sansbury said, while leisure travelers planning a summer visit are booking up to 60 days in advance.

"Because it takes a while to create awareness" in the overall marketplace, it was decided to narrow the property's focus to groups for the first two years, Sansbury said.

For the first two years of Royal Pacific's operation, he said he envisions that 70% of business will come from meetings and 30% will be leisure.

After the two-year period, Sansbury said he believes it will be possible to change that ratio to 50/50, which would be preferable for the hotel in terms of room revenue.

The Royal Pacific has 80,000 square feet of meeting space and can handle up to 3,500 meeting delegates. At this time, 700 to 800 rooms of the hotel will be set aside for groups if demand warrants it, Sansbury said, compared with 500 rooms at the Portofino Bay and 400 at the Hard Rock.

He said the Royal Pacific's major competitors are the Renaissance at SeaWorld, Marriott's Orlando World Center, the Wyndham Palace and Disney's Yacht & Beach Club.

Sansbury said that incentive groups so far have shown "a strong interest" in the Royal Pacific. Pharmaceutical meetings are also set. Pharmaceutical concerns tend to stay for three nights and hold nearly all of their meal functions at the hotel, but the closing event is usually held elsewhere at the Universal Orlando complex or entirely off-site, he said.

For meeting planners, this September and May 2003 are the best months price-wise to secure space, Sansbury said, based on current demand.

Although the hotel last November offered New York-based meeting planners one free, pre- or post-meeting night if they were prepared to take room blocks for the summer, so far it has not been necessary to offer meeting groups any more free nights for the rest of 2002, he said.

However, free nights still remain popular with Universal Orlando's selected wholesalers, especially during off-season, Sansbury said.

The park's three on-site hotels pay 10% commission to agents on straight room sales, but special overrides remain a possibility, he said.

Sansbury said that agents can sell the Royal Pacific to clients by highlighting features such as the property's South Pacific theme; the Universal Express admission to rides at both parks, avoiding lines; the hotel's lagoon pool with interactive features; room amenities; its proximity to Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios and CityWalk entertainment-dining complex; 24-hour room service; and its acceptance of pets.

In addition, the Emeril LaGasse-run Tchoup Chop restaurant is set for a fall opening, serving Asian and Polynesian-influenced food.

For additional information, call (800) 23-LOEWS or visit www.loewshotels.com.

Resort offers discount rates

ORLANDO -- The Royal Pacific Resort here offers an introductory rate of $149 per night, single or double, for a standard room with either a king-size or two queen-size beds.

Also offered is a two-night introductory package, priced at $274 per person, double, that covers room, two-days' admission to both Universal parks, a CityWalk Party Pass for nightclubs and a choice of one lunch or dinner at the hotel or a visit to the Wet N' Wild water park.

Both specials are valid through Dec. 23, but must be booked by Dec. 10 and are subject to availability.

For bookings, call (800) 23-LOEWS.

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