There’s not a guest room to spare at the 730-room Westin Kierland Resort and Spa on the Scottsdale-Phoenix border today, and there won’t be any available until Tuesday.
Four out of five of those who reserved rooms for the weekend are Notre Dame alumni or fans planning to watch the Fighting Irish face off against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Monday in the Fiesta Bowl.
But the 500-room Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort, which has plenty of vacationers and a few small meeting groups booked, still had, as of Friday, about 40 percent of its rooms empty for the weekend.
"We didn’t get to play this year," said Paul Pelican, director of sales and marketing for the luxury resort on the Gila River Indian Community. "We’re working on establishing a relationship with the Fiesta Bowl for future years."
If there was any question about the economic boon the Fiesta Bowl brings to East Valley hotels, the two sibling Starwood Lodging properties, both luxury level accommodations, clear up any doubts.
Hotels housing teams, bands and alumni groups are packed. Those with no specific deals for Fiesta Bowl business are mostly disappointed.
The annual gridiron extravaganza, which kicks off at Sun Devil Stadium for the last time Monday — the game moves to Glendale in 2007 — is pegged to leave Valley businesses and state and local tax coffers an estimated $200 million richer, said Shawn Schoeffler, Fiesta Bowl spokesman. That’s 14 percent more than last year’s estimated $175 million boost from the Utah versus Pittsburgh matchup.
Much of that cash will go for rooms and restaurants in East Valley hotels, and having an "in" with the participating schools appears to be key in snagging the biggest share of the bonanza.
The bowl crowds are especially important in an otherwise dead holiday tourism period.
While many people take to the roads or the skies during the holidays, most of them visit family or friends, not vacation destinations.
Free-spending football fans are a notable — and lucrative — exception.
"For us, this is normally a down time," said Larry Colton, director of sales and marketing for the Pointe South Mountain Resort in Ahwatukee Foothills, one of the designated Ohio State University alumni hotels. "This allows us to fill up. We have 60 (percent) to 70 percent of our rooms (reserved) by the Fiesta Bowl. We’re already starting to see scarlet and gray around the hotel."
Chaparral Suites Resort in Scottsdale had "our best Insight.com Bowl ever," said general manager Tom Silverman. He was referring to the Valley’s other bowl game which pitted Arizona State University against Rutgers on Tuesday at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix. "We weren’t full but it gave us a lot of room (sales) we wouldn’t have had without it."
That was a welcome surprise, Silverman said. The less prestigious game with a local team playing, was barely a blip for most East Valley hotels.
But the Fiesta Bowl, which usually packs Silverman’s hotel, has been a disappointment. The Fiesta Bowl filled more Chaparral Suites rooms last year, Silverman said.
"We’re busy, but not full," he said. "I don’t have any answers (as to) why."
Hotels that made deals with alumni groups or tour operators for the participating schools are not only expecting to fill guest rooms, but they also expect to pick up plenty of extra food and beverage sales.
"We are full (today), Sunday, Monday and mostly full Tuesday," said Joe Martino, senior sales manager at the Westin Kierland. "Last year’s Fiesta Bowl didn’t bring us much business. At this time last year, our occupancy (percentage of available rooms booked) was low."
The Westin’s restaurants are extending their hours to accommodate all the expected business, and the hotel is staging a post-game buffet from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday, Martino said.
Notre Dame has even booked the banquet hall for 11 a.m. Mass Sunday expected to attract 2,500, he said.
That should leave a lot of guests loose in the resort right about lunchtime.
At the Fiesta Inn in Tempe, which for years has landed bowl bands and enough game tickets to put together fan packages, "It’s a wonderful Fiesta Bowl," said Sherry Henry, general manager.
"All our tickets are sold. All our rooms are sold. And I get five calls a day from people looking for tickets."