CHICAGO—Hoteliers in Chicago are downplaying any negative effects moving a meeting of world leaders from their city to Camp David might have on them, saying the larger gathering of NATO allies still will showcase the United States’ third-most-populous city and provide plenty of demand.
NATO will hold its 25th summit 20-21 May in Chicago, aimed at driving forward key alliance policies. President Obama chose to relocate the Group of Eight Summit from his hometown of Chicago to his country retreat Camp David in Frederick County, Maryland, in early March; it’s the smaller of the two meetings originally scheduled for the same weekend.
Robert Habeeb, COO of First Hospitality Group, which owns and operates six hotels in the Chicago metropolitan area and dozens more just outside city limits, said much about the NATO and G-8 summits remains unknown.
“The government still hasn’t released a lot of their rooms and where they’re going to be,” Habeeb said. “That’s going to be the tale of the tape.”
Habeeb said the move won’t require much shuffling, and NATO still will provide a “great chance for the city to emerge as a world class destination.”
Both summits were originally scheduled for McCormick Place, the largest convention center in the U.S. Hyatt Hotels Corporation, which manages the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place—the official convention center hotel—reported no impact from the relocation.
“The NATO Summit will be hosted in Chicago and planning continues apace with little to no changes on the overall scale and scope of the summit's preparations,” said Mark Sanna, VP of global security for Hyatt, in an emailed statement.
As of March, Chicago had an existing supply of 106,675 rooms, according to data from STR, parent company of HotelNewsNow.com.
Had NATO not been taking place the same week, the move would’ve led to a lot of scrambling to fill empty rooms, sources said.
A similar move would’ve devastated Pittsburgh when it hosted the Group of 20 Summit in September 2009. The G-20, which represents a broader range of the world’s industrialized economies than the G-8, is estimated to have helped sell at least 50,000 hotel roomnights in Pittsburgh, according to Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPittsburgh.
Pittsburgh learned it was going to host the G-20 in May 2009, just four months before that meeting, which took place at the city’s new energy-efficient convention center the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
“We had four months to prepare for it and that involved a lot of asking customers to relocate because it would not have been viable to hold meetings during that week,” Davis said. “To have something taken out of inventory and then told it was being taken out of the city … would have been devastating to the hotels.”
Davis said, outside of the international delegates, the summit brought in a large gathering of foreign press dispatches, who arrived in town weeks before the events to “hunt down stories and get the lay of the land.” He said security teams came in advance to ensure security, and the White House delegations also arrived before the summit.
“Then the actual delegates come in, and they bring an entourage,” Davis said. “The (U.S. Department of State) took up an entire hotel. Every single hotel here—within (downtown Pittsburgh) to Oakland, which is the next town over, to the airport—were affected and full.”
Davis said Pittsburgh has 24,000 rooms in the metropolitan statistical area and his team calculated approximately 15,000 or 16,000 were reserved specifically for the G-20.
“It was the single largest thing I’ve ever been involved in,” he said.
In the spotlight
The Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau, which is in the process of rebranding to Choose Chicago, was relishing in the opportunity to host the G-8 and NATO summits together. It was going to be “the big story” for Chicago because the two haven’t been together for more than 20 years, said Mark Tunney, senior VP of sales and services for Choose Chicago.
However, Tunney thinks the NATO summit will prove to be just as big a demand driver.
“Moving the G-8 to Camp David only affected the city in a slight way because NATO is a lot bigger,” he said. “This is a weekend event—it’s a pretty quick meeting; not as long a stay as everyone thinks.”
Tunney said the National Restaurant Association Show, typically that weekend and also held at McCormick Place, was delayed a few weeks in order to accommodate both summits.
“From a business travel standpoint, it’s a weekend so it wouldn’t have had that large an effect,” he said. “What we’re not seeing is any leisure push over that time frame. This is not going to close down the city; Chicago in May is going to be a great time, and the city is not going to shut down.
“We’d like to see people come in and stay the weekend.”
Some in the city are glad to see the G-8 go, fearing the protests and demonstrations that would’ve come along with it, FHG’s Habeeb said.
“This city is still stinging from the ’68 democratic convention,” he said, referring to protest activity that took place for eight days in Chicago in late August 1968 during the convention.
“The threat of disruption is minimized,” Habeeb said. “Everyone was just nervous that there would be something grave where you’d have to live that down.”