Posted on: December 7 2010
Thursday, December 2, 2010
BY: Richard A. Webster, Staff Writer
All eyes in the New Orleans tourism industry will be fixed on Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship game pitting Auburn against South Carolina.
If Auburn wins, the University of Arkansas is a lock for the Sugar Bowl. If South Carolina wins, they could earn a spot in the Jan. 4 game at the Superdome.
Either way, it’s a win for the city as both schools are supported by rabid fans willing to travel to cheer on their teams, said Al Groos, general manager of the Royal Sonesta Hotel.
“South Carolina has never played in the Sugar Bowl, so I think it will inspire a lot of their alumni and students to take the trip. It’s a great excuse to come to New Orleans,” he said.
Arkansas hasn’t played in the Sugar Bowl since 1980. If they earn a spot, Razorback fans are expected to stampede the French Quarter in big numbers and fill up every available hotel room.
“I was here as a young kid when they were here in 1980,” Groos said. “The ‘Sooie!’ chant was everywhere. It’s such a funny group of people, running around in pig heads chanting ‘Sooie! Sooie!’ They definitely stand out.”
An opponent for either Arkansas or South Carolina has yet to be decided, and the factors involved in choosing that team are far more complicated. Ohio State is a team frequently mentioned.
And there are certain scenarios in which neither Arkansas nor South Carolina would make the Sugar Bowl.
The picture should be clearer by Sunday and Groos intends to have his phone lines fully staffed to handle the expected onslaught of people looking to book rooms for the big game.
The Roosevelt New Orleans expected to have all 504 of its rooms booked by Friday. It’s hosting the game’s corporate sponsor, Allstate, whose employees and guests will occupy 80 percent of their rooms. The remaining rooms at $300 a night are expected to be sold out by the weekend.
“I think the city will have a high occupancy rate at all the hotels downtown,” said Brink Grush, director of sales and marketing for the Roosevelt. “But even if you take away the Sugar Bowl completely, New Year’s Eve is a strong enough draw that a lot of hotels would still sell out anyway.”
If the Bayou Classic is an indication, rooms should be in short supply for the Sugar Bowl. The occupancy rate at the Royal Sonesta for the Grambling State University and Southern University matchup was up 5 percent compared with last year, increasing to the 85 to 90 percent range over the two days.
“I think it has to do with the economy improving. There’s also more interest in coming to the city of New Orleans, which we’ve seen throughout the year at various events,” Groos said.
The occupancy rate at the Roosevelt reached the mid-90s for the Bayou Classic and by all accounts, the three shootings that took place over the weekend did not make a significant impact among the fans.
“I think a lot of them were unaware of it because our desk agents said they didn’t hear any comments,” Grush said. “I think the locals, myself included, are on edge about it, but our guests seemed to take it in stride. Most of them commented about the extreme police presence.”
This year has proven to be an extremely pleasant surprise, surpassing all expectations, and Grush predicts it will end in the same fashion.
“The leisure market as far as I’m concerned has exceeded pre-Katrina demand. Ever since the Saints started winning playoff games, our weekend business has been extremely strong. We also got a fourth cruise line back in November and I think the oil spill helped us because a number of people canceled their beach vacation and came to New Orleans instead.”