Despite end-of-the-millennium hype about grand New Year's Eve parties, many large Orange County hotels say they still have rooms available for Dec. 31. Some have slashed rates and trimmed minimum-stay requirements to lure customers.
It's a different story in the Los Angeles area, however, where a sampling found that high-end hotels are sold out, or close to it.
The 196-room Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills has been sold out for the New Year's weekend since mid-November. It required a two-night minimum stay at prices ranging from $395 to $3,000 a night.
"Because we asked for a full deposit, people had to make sure in their minds that they were coming before they paid," Peninsula marketing director Christine Judd said.
The Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Tennis Club has dropped the price of its two-night New Year's party package from $1,231.99 to $850 per couple. For one night, the price was dropped to $700 from $999. The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in Dana Point reduced its three-night minimum stay to two nights when customers balked, as did the Inn at Laguna Beach. And the price of a two-night package at the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort in Huntington Beach--which includes a New Year's Eve party, dinner show, all meals and a casino night--has been slashed by more than half. That hotel and others also offer less-pricey options.
"It didn't sell," said Irvine-based industry consultant Randall Hiatt, referring to the initial New Year's Eve strategy of many hotels. "And the biggest culprit is overpricing."
Some higher-end offerings were snapped up, however. The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in Dana Point has rented its presidential suite for $100,000, a tab that includes a butler, his-and-hers Bulgari wristwatches, a private New Year's Eve dinner for 12 in the hotel's wine room and a 2000 Jaguar XJ8 that the guests get to keep.
With all the price-cutting, however, guests who booked early could very well get rebates, Hiatt said.
Indeed, when the Hilton Waterfront in Huntington Beach slashed the price of its two-night stay from $1,999 to $850, it called customers who had already booked rooms to tell them they would pay less.
The city of San Juan Capistrano's New Year's Eve celebration was canceled this week because of low ticket sales. The family-oriented no-alcohol event was planned for 1,000 people, but the city had sold just 120 tickets at $8 for adults and $5 for children.
"Generally for our events, we have huge turnouts," city spokeswoman Cristi Silverberg said, adding that many people apparently have decided to stay at home or attend smaller parties.
As consultant Hiatt sees it, the shift away from big events reflects a longer-term trend toward what some call "cocooning," snuggling in at or near home, partly to avoid holiday drunk drivers.
Many civic events are on track, however.
The city of Los Angeles has planned huge public parties in five communities from San Pedro to Van Nuys. Each is expected to draw thousands of people with activities such as parades featuring local musical and dance troupes, and other live performances.
City officials said they are anticipating large crowds for the free events, which begin at noon on Dec. 31 and will stretch into the early morning hours of New Year's Day.
Meanwhile, hotels say the price reductions--and the ticking clock--have begun to spark sales.
"Now that the date's approaching, they're booking," said Turner at the Hilton Waterfront. The lower prices "definitely helped," she said.
The Beverly Hills Hotel is virtually sold out, said reservations manager Barbara McGuinness. Rates range from $340 to $7,400 a night with a three-night minimum.
The Four Seasons on the border of Beverly Hills and L.A. has also booked most of its 285 rooms. It requires a two-night minimum and two-night deposit. People had until Oct. 1 to cancel and get a full refund, but few backed out, reservations manager Greg Velasquez said. The hotel charged from $430 to $1,300 and didn't have to tinker with its rates, he said.
"We had a flurry of bookings in late October to mid-November," Velasquez said. "By the end of November, we were pretty much sold out. We're down to just a few suites left."