Some of the best Christmas buys are to be found not in malls but in Orange County hotels.
In an effort to lure guests during the traditionally slow holiday period, hoteliers are busily offering all sorts of bargain packages.
The deals range from The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel's goodie baskets and Christmas stories around the fireplace to The Beverly Heritage Hotel's $314 three-night package--complete with dinners, guest gifts and whale-watching excursions. And where but Orange County can you find black stretch limousines--paid for by Le Meridien--that will whisk hotel patrons/shoppers to the mall?
"Business people don't travel on the holidays, and you're much less likely to have association meetings," said David R. Kincaid, hotel industry expert with Laventhol & Horwath's Costa Mesa office. Hoteliers estimate that occupancy rates during middle to late December range from 20% to 40%.
To steal Christmas back from the grinch, many local hotels are using the county's shopping centers as a peg for their holiday promotions. The Ritz-Carlton, Le Meridien and The Westin South Coast Plaza are offering transportation to South Coast Plaza. In Newport Beach, gift hunters are taken to Fashion Island as part of holiday packages offered by the Four Seasons Hotel and The Newporter Resort.
On a more exotic note, the Ritz-Carlton includes reindeer in its "Christmas Around the World" holiday menu.
The imaginative marketing is having some success. Le Meridien has sold out a $122-per-couple package that offers a two-hour boat cruise for the Dec. 19 Christmas boat parade in Newport Harbor. The Ritz-Carlton has booked about 200 of its two-day, $325 "mini-holiday" packages--many to Los Angeles residents who come here to shop. And the Westin has sold several hundred "Dickens of a Christmas," officials there said.
But the biggest bargain by far is the price of rooms. Holiday packages can offer discounts of up to 45% of a hotel's regular room rates.
Of course, serious shoppers could be sold on the smaller amenities--like free gift wrapping. "I wrapped 45 gifts for one woman," said Joannie Flynn, spokeswoman at Four Seasons. "They bring in golf clubs--anything that comes in, we'll find some way to wrap it."
Which, to some, could be worth the price of a room.