Despite the heavy presence of federal agents and news media in Waco for the Branch Davidian siege, no groups with longstanding plans to meet in Waco have canceled plans to come here, the city’s top convention official said Tuesday.
Elizabeth A. Taylor, who started her job 24 hours after the siege began, said the Convention and Visitors Bureau and local hotels are working to make sure groups still have a place to stay when they come to Waco.
“When someone indicates to us that they think there’s a problem, we’re communicating with the hotels involved, with the event planner involved and we’re trying to work out the situation as best we can and keep as much of that business in Waco as possible.
“So far, we have been able to do that because we’ve had cooperative people in the hotels and cooperative event planners,” said Taylor, the city’s visitors services manager.
Some visitors, however, have had to make sacrifices.
For example, during the weekend of March 5-6, several news media personnel and some other visitors had to stay in the city’s recreation centers after being bumped from their hotel rooms by people with longstanding reservations.
“It was bare necessities,” Taylor said. “I mean, it was cots and shared showers, but it was what we had.”
Waco Hilton Inn general manager Gordon Rostvold said his hotel has been able to honor all of its reservations so far.
“Any guest that has checked in has been asked to honor their check-out date,” he said.
Of the 200 rooms at the Hilton, about 65 are now occupied by media covering the standoff. Citywide, hotels have about a 25 percent hike in their business because of the siege, Rostvold said.
During the siege, he said, some hotel operators have asked reporters to leave their hotel rooms to make way for people with reservations made before the crisis began.
“Sometimes people in the media have stayed in three or four hotels in order to have a room,” said Rostvold, secretary of the Waco Hotel-Motel Association.
Taylor said hotels have been reluctant to ask federal agents to leave their rooms. When there has been a conflict, some other guests have been moved to hotels in Temple, Gatesville and Hillsboro, she said.
If and when the agents might be asked to move will probably depend on the status of the siege, Taylor said.
“We don’t know what problems are going to occur because if the situation is resolved outside of town, it may be more possible. . . to move some of the federal agents if they are not having to work under the high stress and high tension they have been working under,” she said.
Hotels and the city have suffered financially because of the large influx of federal employees. Federal employees usually get a lower room rate and pay no occupancy, or “bed,” taxes. Waco collects $800,000 to $900,000 yearly in such taxes and uses revenues for tourism promotion.
Taylor said she did not know how much the siege is costing the city.
“It’s not something I want to play up,” Taylor said, “but it’s a reality.”
Several groups are scheduled to come to town in the next couple of weeks, including participants in a Shriners golf tournament and a large group of bowhunters.
“We’re concerned because people have booked hotel rooms for months and, in some cases, for a year,” Taylor said.
“And due to circumstances that no one can really control, there is a real potential that we’re going to be doing lots of juggling to accommodate all the groups,” she said.