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FRIDAY, MARCH 23, 2007
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Bureau's reservation program wins praise

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com 340-2395

A new reservations service provided by the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau has been a hit with families needing rooms for soccer tournaments.

The bureau has booked more than 860 room nights for three different soccer events since January, allowing customers to bypass the need to reserve rooms with individual hotels.

Early feedback says the customers like the one-stop service, and this is just another way to establish Decatur as the top destination for youth sports events, said bureau President Tami Reist.

"Other cities will build soccer fields," she said. "They'll have the fields, and they'll have the tournaments, but will they have our customer service?"

Betsy Guy, team manager for the Hoover Blue Angels, a U-13 soccer team that played in the Southeast Challenge last weekend, wrote a letter to The Daily praising the new service.

"Normally when we travel for a tournament, many hours are spent on the Internet and phone trying to secure a hotel reservation," she wrote. "Trips to a new city mean we don't know the area, how close the hotels are to the fields or how to secure the best rate.

"One phone call to Lori (Boger, group travel director) and our hotels were secured. I was asked what our preferences were, given many options of location and the rate was great. Because of our experience, we are encouraging our city to consider staffing such a position — the service was A-plus."

Teams are instructed to call the bureau by tournament organizers, who may pre-inspect local hotels and recommend a list to use. The bureau will make a contract with each participating hotel for that particular event.

Boger said the staff has already booked 630 rooms for the Olympic Developmental Program on March 30-31, and one day it took at least 80 reservations.

Reist said the service has been a drain on the staff, but it's been worth it because of the information the bureau gets firsthand.

It's a foolproof way to track how many people come to an event and what rates they pay, she said. It also gives the bureau addresses for sending out surveys and provides a database for future bookings and mailings.

It also can shed new light on problems within the local industry, such as why teams won't stay at a certain hotel and whether or not local hotels provide enough rooms with two double beds. Furthermore, when Decatur hotels fill up, the bureau staff can book rooms in Priceville and Hartselle, instead of people calling Madison or Huntsville, Reist added.

The bureau isn't planning to go into the reservations business full-time, and will basically offer the service for sports events, such as Youth Basketball of Alabama in May, Reist said. The bureau probably will have to add another phone line and hire a part-time reservation specialist or get some volunteers to help book rooms when the Governor's Cup comes to Decatur in November. It could result in reservations for 3,600 room nights.

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