Talk about a balancing act. In every urban area where parking is scarce, hotel managers are faced with the challenge of providing enough convenient parking for guests, without having those precious spots usurped by the employees and customers of neighboring businesses. Most often, management has little choice but to implement revenue control to discourage non-hotel users. Fortunately, through the judicious use of access control structures and systems, variable pricing, and a means of demonstrating value for their parking dollar, hospitality guests can be weaned from the pre-existing expectation of free parking.
In the case of Marriott Suites in Newport Beach, the parking problem posed a particularly acute dilemma. Completely surrounded by office and commercial buildings that mandated paid parking, the Marriott parking structure stood as the one free, car-haven for hundreds of yards. So customers that needed to go to the bank across the street, for example, would park in Marriott’s lot.
“The major users of our lot were from an office building next door,” confirmed Mark Bolten, general manager for the hotel. “Even more frustrating, non-hotel guests would park in our lot and then take our shuttle to the airport. So not only were our guests missing out on parking spots, but they were forced to compete with non-guests for a spot on the shuttle.”
Bolten realized that for the sake of his customers, the days of uncontrolled parking were numbered. Yet, he dreaded the thought of immediately erecting a Gestapo-like guard booth at the entrance to the lot and exacting a steep toll from all who entered.
Like many large hospitality properties, Marriott Suites of Newport Beach contracted out the maintenance of their parking structure to an outside service. Mile Hi Valet Service, based in Denver, Colorado, handled the structure for this particular Marriott and a number of other Marriott properties throughout the country. As such, they represented the most logical place for Bolten to begin his search for a solution.
“Marriott first came to us about a year ago, with a request to lock down a facility that had previously been wide open,” recalled Jason Williams, Regional Manager of Mile Hi. “They explained that they wanted us to contain and control all the revenue collection at the site, yet they didn’t want a square, white, parking booth that looked like it was just slapped down.”
Early on, Marriott’s Bolten recognized the wisdom of utilizing a parking control structure that clearly identified the parking structure with that of the hotel. This would make it evident to unauthorized users that they would be trespassing onto hotel property. For that reason, he insisted that the parking collection booth must match the hotel architecture as much as possible.
Presented with this mandate, Valley Hi teamed up with Sentry Control Systems of Sun Valley, California. Their expertise could provide Marriott with the means of distinguishing hotel guests and convention visitors from unauthorized users, and provide an automatic assignment of the corresponding parking fee to be charged. However, the selection of the revenue collection structure turned out to be a joint venture.
“Ordinarily, the parking operator looks for a particular company to team up with to do their booths,” noted Doug Bonnell, Sales Executive for Sentry Control. “But Valley Hi already had someone in mind, and that made the selection process that much easier.”
“For the past few years we have mainly used booths manufactured by B.I.G. Enterprises, Inc™ [El Monte, California] for all of our projects, because of the quality of their booths,” said Valley Hi’s Williams. “The owners of the Marriott hotel were very picky. They wanted a parking-control booth that looked like it was built with the hotel: the same stucco, the same color scheme, etc. We knew that B.I.G. could meet these demands because of their demonstrated flexibility on other parking projects of ours.”
“The owners and I wanted something that was aesthetically pleasing,” said Marriott’s Bolten. “So the folks at B.I.G. gave me a catalog with more booths than I’ve ever laid eyes on. “We picked one part of one booth, another part of another, the body of one, the roof from another, and then we asked them to modify the windows all to fit our architecture.”
Once a final design was decided upon, construction of the booth began at a rapid pace. However, little needed to be done at the hotel site, since these booths are delivered to any site as fully approved, pre-fabricated structures. Once mounted on a cement pad and connected to available utilities, they are immediately ready for occupancy.
In June of 2000, the booth was ultimately installed on the exit side of the parking structure, with a card-swipe reader mounted on the side of the booth for motorists to reach from the driver’s seat.
By that point, Sentry Control Systems had stepped in to complete an equitable means of ensuring that hotel customers were accommodated first and foremost, and secondly, that the hotel could gain revenue.
“We implemented a system for hotel guests as well as single-day visitors who were going to attend a convention or a one-day seminar,” said Sentry’s Bonnell. “Guests just pay a per-night charge and can have unlimited in and out privileges with a guest card, which is a bar-coded ticket. Non-hotel users pull a ticket for revenue control upon entering the lot. They pay the maximum upon exit.”
“We decided to charge $8 per 24 hours for our overnight guests,” said Marriott’s Bolten. “We do have lower rates for shorter parking stays. Additionally, people who visit our restaurants and bars have two hours of complimentary parking. For seminars, conventions, and things of that sort, that’s all negotiated up frontÑso the parking charges have not changed that aspect of the business.”
For twelve years, parking had been free at the Marriott Suites in Newport Beach. So management was prepared for some resistance from their regular customers during the transition. From the outset, Bolten and his staff communicated to their guests a sense of “value added” from the parking revenues.
“We believe that our customers will reap the benefits of the improvements we will add to the facility, thanks to the revenue we gain from the parking fees,” noted Bolten. “We now have extra funds to put in new furnishings, new health club equipment, more plants, etc. Just as important, parking control has freed up additional parking for our associates and guests. They no longer need be inconvenienced.”
Part of what makes this formula work, is the fact that the parking booth now identifies that parking structure with the hotelÑencouraging guests, while discouraging non-authorized persons.
“I always thought a booth, is a booth, is a booth. But to my surprise, I have gotten a lot of compliments on it,” said Bolten. “Even though it is closer to the office building next door, the booth is clearly identified as ours because it matches our architecture. I was pretty amazed that they were able to do that very quickly and within budget.”
“This booth certainly solved the problem for Marriott,” concluded Sentry Control’s Bonnell. “Everyone seems to like the design. We absolutely plan on using more B.I.G booths in the future for other parking projects.”