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With the help of employee Brandon Leal the Wise family from Wisconsin checks into the Loews beach hotel on Ocean Avenue Tuesday afternoon. Looking to attract visitors, Loews and 24 other local hotels are offering a free third night's stay, bike rental and bus passes. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — With tourism — one of the largest economic engines in the city — taking a hit in the recession, hotels are getting creative when it comes to attracting guests.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau on Tuesday announced a new promotion in which 25 participating hotels will offer guests a free room for the third night’s stay.

The “Sun, Sea, Save” program comes with a package that includes a complimentary beach bicycle rental at Perry’s Cafe, a free fare card on the Big Blue Bus, and a free ride on the Ferris wheel, which altogether — but excluding the room — is worth about $60.

The hotels include everything from budget accommodations such as the Best Western Gateway Hotel to luxury rooms at Shutters on the Beach.

“There are hundreds of offers out there right now because of the economy and destinations are trying to throw discounts at hotels to put out into the marketplace,” Alison Best, the vice president of sales and services for the CVB, said. “Our offer is unique because it’s not just the hotel promotion, it also ensures that the visitors have a true Santa Monica experience.”

The Embassy, which is located on Third Street, decided to join in on the promotion simply because other hotels were participating, Josh Bond, the general manager, said.

“The fact that all other hotels are participating made it an easier decision,” he said.

Bond said that compared to previous years, the occupancy rate is down. The hotel has 28 rooms, some of which are occupied by permanent residents.

“There was a rough patch where it was worrisome but it’s kind of picked back up lately,” he said.

Gabriel Ratner, the acting general manager of the Oceana Hotel, said the demand for rooms has remained stable considering the economic climate, attributing the success to the fact that there are only 70 rooms at the hotel. He has noticed that guests are looking for a good deal.

He said that the promotion is about supporting the city.

“It’s really important that everyone jumps on the bandwagon and support tourism in Santa Monica because I think it’s a great destination,” he said.

Dick Bassler, a travel agent with Lets’ Travel, said he believes the promotion could have an unintended consequence that he has seen experienced by the airlines where consumers wait until the last minute to book, waiting out for a better deal.

“The hotels and tour companies are trapped because once they start doing this, they have to start eating those rooms … because they trained the public again (to wait) until the last minute to get deals,” he said.

He called it a “cat and mouse game.”

The CVB plans to market the promotion through an online campaign, Kim Baker, the director of marketing, said, pointing to statistics that show 85 percent of consumers book their travels on the Internet.

Best said that despite a recession, she believes that tourism will pick up again in the summer, especially among European travelers and West Coast residents.

“I think the European travelers are still fully excited about traveling to the U.S. and California in general,” she said. “The dollar works for them against the Euro right now.”

melodyh@smdp.com

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