Love is in the air. Really. Can't you feel it? Try harder. Local hoteliers are working overtime to convince couples that splurging on an overnight stay on Valentine's Day is an absolute must. But that sales job is turning out to be a bigger challenge than it has been in years.
A report released last week by the Conference Board indicates that consumer confidence has plunged to a four-year low. To boot, Valentine's Day falls on a Wednesday this year, not exactly the most romantic night of the week.
"People's spending habits are a little less opulent than last year," observed hotel industry consultant Bruce Baltin, senior vice president of PKF Consulting in Los Angeles. "It's a great night for hotel restaurants, but definitely staying overnight at a luxury hotel is a luxury."
And consumers just don't seem in the mood for luxuries. Many seem to be more preoccupied with the deflation of Nasdaq bubbles than the elation of champagne and bath bubbles. In short, L.A. couples will likely be more invulnerable to the publicity arrows of hotel industry Cupids than they have been in years.
What's a marketer to do? Make sharper arrows, and shoot more of them.
The Omni Los Angeles Hotel, a luxury hotel on Bunker Hill in downtown, has designed a "Romeo and Juliet" evening where couples can stay at the hotel and receive tickets to the Shakespearean play at the nearby Center Stage.
And for the romantically challenged, the hotel staff leaves a dozen "love tips" next to guests' pillows when turning down the bed. Each tip, printed on a card encased in a small packet, dispenses tidbits of advice guaranteed to win you points.
Tip No. 1: Write "I Love You" on the bathroom mirror after a steamy shower. (Housekeeping says this one is very popular.)
Tip No. 2: Pick a flower from a fresh floral arrangement in the hotel lobby and present it to your loved one. (Hotel security has been advised not to harass guests plucking petals out of lobby pots.)
Tip No. 3: Sneak into the hotel's ballroom and dance to "Unchained Melody." Hint: The concierge has the tape in the tape player ready for your "impromptu" dance. (Just don't ask him who the Righteous Brothers are.)
The Omni is just one of several local hotels whose marketing departments are being wrung dry of ideas on how to entice customers to share a romantic Valentine's evening and stay the night. And most of the Valentine's Day packages they're coming up with are not cheap.
At the New Otani Hotel & Garden, romance will cost you $649 a night for "The Japanese Experience." That gets you a night in a two-room Japanese suite overlooking the downtown hotel's rooftop Japanese garden. The suite, with a sitting room and sliding shoji screens, has an elevated bedroom with a futon bed and a Japanese bathroom with a sunken tub and sauna. Toss in two half-hour Shiatsu massages, dinner for two and a bonsai tree and you have a relaxing Valentine's Day in an ambience that takes you away from Los Angeles for a day.
Over at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey, hotel executives are going with a more traditional Valentine's Day package. A butler will come to your room and draw you a bath scattered with rose petals. Chilled champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries and a room with a view of the marina completes the $349 package. "It's really decadent," said Ritz-Carlton Hotel spokeswoman Tracy Larrua. "We get a lot of local people who want to get away for the night but don't want to go far."
Many hotels are taking the idea of Valentine's Day and running with it, extending the theme through the month if not the year.
In Beverly Hills, The Regent Beverly Wilshire offers personally monogrammed spa robes as part of its $625 Valentine Day's package that includes champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries and dinner. But the romance package is always available, said hotel spokeswoman Deborah Damask.
Rub, scrub and grub
In a different twist to the Valentine Day's offering, some hotels are providing a day-long package no stay included designed to pamper you with hedonistic treats.
At the Peninsula, the five-star hotel in Beverly Hills, you and your sweetheart can treat each other with a his-and-her spa treatment. For men, there is the "Be Mine" package, which starts off with a pineapple-papaya body scrub and continues with a duo massage by two therapists. Add a facial and three hours later you are scrubbed, rubbed and relaxed for $425. For women, there is the "Sweetheart" that includes a 90-minute deep tissue massage, a facial and a pedicure for $425.
Still, consultants note that most hotels do their biggest Valentine's Day business in the dining room.
"Valentine's Day is a very important event for the food and beverage aspect of hotels," said Charlotte Novom, whose Novom Marketing represents several hotels. "They always tend to promote it for romantic dining."
In that vein, the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica came up with an entertaining Valentine's Day dining experience provocatively called InterCourses. It's supposed to be an evening of savoring sensual delicacies such as oysters, seafood, spicy food and chocolate. It's coordinated by Martha Hopkins, author of "InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook."
At the Beverly Hills Hotel, the venerable Polo Lounge is the staging place for a four-course Valentine's Day meal that starts with pink champagne and ends with a dessert called "Lover's Delight."
And for those more inclined to a private romantic celebration, the Beverly Hills Hotel and the others are always willing to serve breakfast in bed.
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