As Center City hoteliers struggle to attract warm bodies to fill their accommodations, the Alexander Inn is luring guests by pricing a few of its rooms at $1 a night.

The promotion, which started March 10, even has a name: "the Guest Stimulus Plan."

"It's just been amazing," innkeeper John Cochie said of the response. "People telephone us and ask, 'Is this for real, and how many nights do I have to stay to get the dollar rate?' They're shocked when they're told they just have to stay one night."

The buck-a-night promotion applies Sundays to Thursdays for five of the hotel's 48 rooms. First scheduled to end May 21, the promotion has been extended until June 11. It represents the type of aggressive marketing required for survival these days, hospitality officials say.

A report last week by PKF Hospitality Research said the current decline in U.S. lodging "will be deeper and last longer" than originally predicted. Revenue per available room, a key metric in the hotel industry, is now expected to drop 13.7 percent this year, and a quarter-over-quarter gain in sales is not anticipated until early 2011, according to the report.

"Things are pretty tough, and we are looking at creative ways to market the city," said Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association. "I give the Alexander a lot of credit for stepping up. It's a courageous move."

Meryl Levitz of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. said the $1-a-night promotion was a clever way "to gin up interest in travel."

The tourism group will begin a marketing campaign in early May that also will have a recessionary theme - "Business as Unusual" - to help boost hotel occupancy.

"It's extraordinarily challenging," Levitz said of the current travel climate. "No one in the hospitality industry has ever seen anything like this before. Everybody is looking for entrepreneurial ways to get through this."

Cochie, 52, said the $1-a-night idea came to him while he was sitting in a meeting with about 20 hotel general managers last month at the Ritz-Carlton. Hospitality consultants had just given a bleak forecast for the industry.

"It was doom and gloom," he recalled.

In the background, Cochie said, President Obama was on CNN, talking about the need for businesses to be innovative to help turn the economy around.

Cochie said he shared his idea with his boss, Alexander Inn owner Mel Heifetz, who encouraged him to tie it in with Obama's recovery plan.

Cochie said rooms at the Alexander typically ranged from $119 to $169 daily, depending on size.

He said $1 rooms must be booked no more than a month in advance. For instance, a room for April 26 will go on sale at 8 a.m. Thursday.

Cochie said the one-month-advance restriction, which took effect March 12, was "to keep the promotion alive." Otherwise, the rooms would have sold out immediately.

The boutique hotel, which opened in 1900 near the corner of 12th and Spruce as the old Flanders Hotel, relies heavily on repeat business.

The $1 promotion was intended to "bolster our already strong repeat-guest base by introducing the inn to new faces," Cochie said.

To get word out, Cochie targeted 12,000 previous guests through e-mail. He also e-mailed 65 media contacts, mostly in the Northeast corridor.

Tracy Sommers of Long Valley, N.J., who first stayed at the hotel on New Year's Day for the Mummers Parade, got an e-mail March 10 and called the Alexander immediately.

"It's brilliant," said Sommers, 45, who took in the Cezanne and Matisse exhibits while in town Thursday before checking into her $1 room. The standard room with a queen bed typically goes for $129 a night.

"I would have thought the City of Philadelphia was giving the Alexander a kickback for every room," she said.

By that, Sommers said, she was referring to the fact that, while in Philadelphia, she paid for two cab rides, went to the Museum of Art, ate lunch at a local eatery, and had dinner out with her husband.

Cochie said that was another benefit of the promotion: Allowing visitors to spend the money they would have spent on a hotel room on other things, including the city's restaurants and theaters.

Since the promotion began, Cochie said, guaranteed reservations have more than doubled at the Alexander, while page views and unique visitors to the hotel's Web site are up 274 percent. The phones at the front desk have not stopped ringing, either.

Cochie said callers had been "pretty understanding" when told there were no $1 rooms left for a certain day.

"They know it's first-come, first-served," he said, "and they'll try to secure another date."