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Sharing in the Rose Bowl Wealth : Tourism: Hotels, restaurants and other attractions work months to lure likely contenders.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bonnie Best began scouting Penn State University in August, even before the opening game of the collegiate football season.

The Nittany Lions’ strengths were obvious, Best said. Longtime Coach Joe Paterno’s squad had an explosive offense, and the team seemed the best bet in the Big Ten to win a trip to the Rose Bowl.

So Best, director of marketing at the Westin South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, drew up a game plan to bring Penn State’s coaching staff and football team to the Westin. She sent Penn State’s athletic department a scouting report that outlined the hotel’s strengths.

And, as the team marched undefeated through its regular season, she “sent them notes and cards, letting them know we wanted to be part of their team.”

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In late November, her diligence paid off. Penn State’s athletic department signed on with the Westin. Today, more than 90% of the hotel’s 390 rooms will be filled with team members, coaches, family members and friends.

“It’s quite a nice economic boom for us,” Best said. “We’ve had a good year, and this is just icing on the cake.”

The Westin joins other hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions across Southern California that ring up big benefits from the annual bowl game. Officials at the Pasadena-based Tournament of Roses estimate that the annual parade and bowl game pump about $100 million into the regional economy. Pasadena alone collects more than $265,000 in license fees and taxes.

“The week between Christmas and New Year’s is usually a pretty slow time because there’s very little business travel and no convention business,” said Bruce Baltin, a vice president with PKF Consulting, a Los Angeles-based company that tracks tourism. “This kind of thing really helps.”

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Businesses “can’t go wrong on bowl programs,” said Tim McGill, sales director at the Waterfront Hilton in Huntington Beach, where Penn State stayed for four days before transferring to the Westin.

“It’s wonderful for a city, especially if you have teams that haven’t been to the bowl in a while,” McGill said. “Look at last year with Wisconsin, when you seemed to have ‘cheese heads’ everywhere.”

Because the stakes are so high, hoteliers “make contacts early on in the season and try to keep in touch with various teams” as the season progresses, said McGill, whose hotel hosted the University of Michigan for the 1993 Rose Bowl. “You try to find out who makes the decisions and let them know what you can do.”

In odd-numbered years, hoteliers said, the Tournament of Roses requires that Pacific 10 teams stick with hotels in the Pasadena area, whereas the Big Ten representative has the option of booking out-of-town accommodations. In even-numbered years, the roles are reversed.

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Consequently, thousands of Penn State fans are staying at Orange County hotels this year to be near their team.

Bonnie Best at the Westin said the hotel has learned to pay attention to details when it goes after teams.

“They want to know you can provide a taping room (for the athletes) and that you can deal with all the equipment,” Best said. “We tried to let them know we had the experience. . . . We let them know that we’d hosted USC and that Ohio State had stayed here twice and won both times.”

The Westin took the unusual step of allowing Penn State to assign rooms. Hotel managers turned over floor plans to the university, which selected rooms for its team members, coaches, family members and friends.

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Because bowl participants often do not emerge until late November, hotels may find themselves scrambling for replacement business if their bids fail.

The late-season scramble was eased at the Hilton in Huntington Beach, which booked more than 100 rooms for the Nittany Lions during their early four-day stay.

“It gave us a really good bump up because it came at a time that’s usually pretty quiet,” sales director McGill said. “Last week was just awesome.”


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