Westchester County Hotels Gird for Rising Demand

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By Jorge Sidron

Reed Travel Features

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. -- Hotels and conference facilities in Westchester County are renovating and adding services in an effort to attract new clients and ensure repeat business.

Hotel and tourism officials said the properties are taking advantage of an uptick in demand for meetings space among area businesses -- and for hotel rooms among visitors -- by pumping profits into property enhancements. Georgia Kalayjian, president and chief operating officer of the Westchester Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, "After the stock market crash [in October 1987] and during the early '90s, our hotels took quite a beating with occupancies down and companies downsizing. With all of that it was hard to put money back into the hotels."

But, starting in 1994, she said, "Our hotels started doing major renovations after business began picking up."

During the past few years, hotels like the Rye Town Hilton, Tarrytown Hilton, Renaissance Westchester Hotel and Westchester Marriott, to name a few, have spent millions of dollars each on everything from improved lighting and workstations to new ballrooms and business centers, Kalayjian said. The money for the renovations came from the record $138 million in hotel room sales in 1996, she said.

Approximately 5 million people visited Westchester for business or pleasure last year, she said, and hotel occupancy is expected to rise from six to nine percentage points in 1997. "After New York City, we're highest in the state right now [for] hotel sales taxes generated. The rest of the state remains pretty lackluster," Kalayjian said.

Jeff Weggeman, director of sales and marketing for the Tarrytown House Executive Conference Center, said that 1996 was a record year for his property, with total revenue up 15% compared with the previous year. This year, he said, revenue at the Tarrytown House is on pace to beat last year's figures by 10%, with "day meetings revenue" projected to increase 25% from 1996.

"The prime reason for our success is our proximity to Manhattan [about 30 minutes by car], from where we get about 85% of our business," Weggeman said. "Also, our location in a bucolic setting in southern Westchester County gives us the feel of being far enough away from the big hustle of Manhattan."

Although Manhattan hotels are by far the most popular choice of business travelers in New York State, Weggeman said, "they're also at the top of the market when it comes to price, which is one reason our region has grown more popular among business travelers." In addition, "from a conference center standpoint, we are a dedicated meetings facility, and there aren't many of those in Manhattan, with the exception of the Millennium hotel," he said.

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