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BAY AREA HOTELS SPECIAL SERVICES LURE UPSCALE TRAVELERS BECKON;

By Published on .

SAN FRANCISCO-Area hotels, tired of slugging it out over prices during the off-season, have begun to try to distinguish themselves by offering specialized perks ranging from fresh air to Chinese herbal power drinks.

"It's the value-added, not the no-frills, approach which will fill hotels this winter," said Stephen R. Pinetti, VP-sales and marketing, the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group.

Mr. Pinetti said his group, which has 2,500 rooms in 23 San Francisco hotels and a $125 million hotel empire on the West Coast, is using focus groups to determine what kinds of frills visitors want.

"Rate isn't a good driver anymore," said Toni Knorr, general manager, Park Hyatt Hotel. "You have to come through with more tangible evidence of what the customer's experience may be."

The Park Hyatt is located next to a new five-screen art-film house and plans to use the facility as a lure for upscale travelers, she said. The Flowers Group, San Diego, will handle the print campaign.

Other competitors are moving more quickly. The ANA Hotel here already has dedicated a floor to "green" rooms for the environmentally sensitive, both physically and psychologically.

The 19 deluxe rooms and one suite, about $10 above the rates which start at $139 depending on availability, feature air and water filtration systems for asthma or allergy sufferers. For the environmentally sensitive of mind, there are "frugal flush" lavatories, energy efficient lighting, and recycled facial and bathroom tissue as well as biodegradable and cruelty-free soaps, shampoos and body lotions.

"It's a draw when we call on an association tied to the green movement, or ecological groups, or certain medical groups such as allergists," said Julian Monsarrat, director of marketing.

In Kimpton's Hotel Triton, which also features a floor of ecorooms, one suite was designed by the artist Wyland, whose cosmic whales decorate shower curtain and duvet covers.

Both the ANA and Kimpton's suites were designed in conjunction with Green Suites International, an environmental marketing and distribution company.

ANA's headquarters recently hired the Zimmerman Agency of Tallahassee, Fla., as its agency. Kimpton does marketing in-house, relying on direct-mail as well as 60 sales reps.

The swanky Ritz Carlton plans to take another tack. The hotel is working on installation of a premier cooking school to supplement its haute cuisine emphasis, with the expectation that weeklong and weekend programs will make the hotel a destination of its own for serious gourmets.

Other hotels capitalize on the city's spectacular views. The Mandarin Hotel, located on the top 11 floors of a 45-story building, features sweeping, unobstructed views of San Francisco, as well as bathtubs next to the windows which allow bathers to enjoy the cityscape with privacy.

Some hotels have catered to the city's large international tourist clientele. The Hotel Nik-ko, owned by Japan Air Lines, has shiatsu massage therapy as well as Japanese TV. The Four Seasons Clift Hotel offers a traditional Japanese breakfast.

Others have taken less than a traditional tack. The Claremont Resort & Spa, with 239 rooms and a holistic health and beauty spa across San Francisco Bay in Oakland, is promoting a New Age meetings program called Unlimited Performance Meetings, or Up Meetings.

The spa also provides, in addition to the usual coffee, tea and soda refreshments, a selection of energizing drinks made of fruit juices and Chinese herbs with names such as Cosmic Rejuvenator, Banana Brain Blaster and Peach Neuro-transmitter.

The facility this year added a climbing wall for team-building activities.

"All hotels can give a customer a room, a banquet hall and a meeting facility, but it's what else you can do" that makes the marketing difference, said Candace Taylor, director of marketing, Claremont Resort & Spa.

The new diversified marketing approaches have a good chance of working now that tourism has rebounded from the doldrums of the late 1980s and early 1990s post-earthquake, Gulf War, recession climate. "We're on a good track," said John Marks, president of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, noting that hotel occupancy was 68% for the first quarter of 1995, up from 63% in the first quarter of 1994. Occupancy for the first four months of the year was up 7.8%, compared with 4.9% in New York and 1.2% in Los Angeles. San Francisco's room rates for the first four months of 1994 were $105, up 2.7% from the first four months of 1993.

Not all hoteliers are sold on the value-added approach, however.

"It works as long as you can maintain a very competitive price component," said Stan Boyd, director of marketing, Fairmont Corp. "Airlines have conditioned people to expect price-driven promotions," he said, "and a promotion packaged at a very attractive price far outperforms everything else."

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