18royal saudi visit folo /kh/
By Jeff Kiger
Seeing any shiny black Mercedes-Benz sedans around?
If you’re on Rochester’s streets much, you probably have.
And are local limousine services busy?
"Oh..ho my, yes," was the enthusiastic response from the person answering the phone at one Rochester business. The manager declined to comment further.
The black cars seem to be everywhere — next to the Kahler Hotel, next to Saint Marys Hospital, and next to the Rochester Athletic Club, Target, Best Buy and elsewhere.
Many local sources say that members of the Saudi Arabian royal family — including 84-year-old King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz — are sitting behind those many black-tinted windows.
Mayo Clinic could not confirm reports that the king was in Rochester for a medical check-up and to visit his sisters, who have been receiving treatment here for a few weeks.
In the past, Saudi royal family was known to be treated at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. However, Mayo Clinic often attracts heads of state from the Middle East, including the president of Iraq recently.
Mayo Clinic currently sees almost 1,500 patients a year from the Middle East, said Brent Phillips, the international administrator for Rochester in an interview earlier this year.
The Middle East is ranked second among countries and regions sending international patients to Rochester; Canada is first.
International patients bring an estimated $30 million to $50 million into Rochester each year, according to the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Though most of the royal family is believed to be staying at the Kahler Inn and the Broadway Residence and Suites in downtown, what does a visit like this mean for Rochester’s hotels?
"We have definitely had an increase in occupancy. While they may stay at one or maybe two hotels, we get what we call ‘compression,’" said Ian Freeburg, president of the Rochester Lodging Association and general manager of the SpringHill Suites Hotel. "All of those rooms are full now, so the rest of the folks that are coming to Rochester need somewhere to stay. So they fill up the other hotels in town. It is good for the whole community."
Two large Saudi Arabian Air 747s sitting on the tarmac at Rochester International Airport, towering over local planes, illustrate the economic impact of such a visit.
Unconfirmed reports alleged that royal Saudi patients bought so many truckloads of merchandise in Rochester that it overburdened their passenger plane and caused them to bring in a second plane.
Accurate or not, such stories show the excitement that such visits stir up among Rochester retailers, restaurants and hotels.
"A visit from a royal contingent is always good for business," said Freeburg.