Visitors to Annapolis' two boat shows pack hotels ANNE ARUNDEL BUSINESS


As sailboats jam every available ripple of water from the Market House to Spa Creek in Annapolis, the sailors and the merely curious pack into just about every hotel, motel, bed and breakfast from Kent Island to Baltimore Washington International Airport.

Mary Phillips, the property manager at Days Inn-BWI, said her hotel's 159 rooms were full all through the U.S. Sailboat Show last weekend, "and we could have sold more if we had them."

"I didn't expect our airport limo to be so busy," said Ms. Phillips, who was on duty last weekend. "And it was busy all night long."

In fact, autumn, when the weather is neither too hot nor too cold, the Naval Academy football team plays at home, and conventions and the boat show come to town, is a particularly good time of year for the hotel business here, hoteliers said.

"It's how we earn our bread and butter," said Tom Negri, manager of Loew's Hotel in Annapolis.

At Days Inn, Saturday was the real crunch night, Ms. Phillips said. The limo ran constantly, hauling people who'd flown to BWI from as far away as Canada and as near as Cumberland, she said.

Other hotel owners and managers said they had patrons from as far away as California and Europe come to see the popular sailboat show.

The frantic search for rooms is repeated this weekend when the United States Powerboat Show starts in Annapolis.

In addition to Commissioning Week at the Naval Academy, "these two weekends in October are among the biggest in the area," said Peggy Walls, executive vice president of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel Conference and Visitor's Bureau on West Street.

There is no way to tally how much money lodging places pull in during these weekends, she said. But it is enough to keep hoteliers smiling.

"We like this time of year," Mr. Negri said.

Travelers familiar with the bustle of activity know they have to book rooms in advance, often by as much as a year, said hotel owners. The owners deny that room rates are raised during the boat shows, but concede that those who book in advance are in a better position to take advantage of special rate packages.

For those who come to the area hoping to get rooms at the last minute, it often is a matter of catch as catch can. "Those are unfortunately the ones you have to tell: 'I'm so sorry,' " said Ms. Phillips.

Then, she said, staffers try to help customers locate lodging elsewhere.

Last weekend, that often meant calling hotels at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, motels around the Beltway, and even referring people to the Washington, D.C., area, industry officials said. Some private homes rent rooms during the boat shows, but even those were hard to come by, they added.

"This entire county was packed to the gills," said Ms. Walls. "Which was great. It was good for business."

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