It's going to be easy for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee to book hotels rooms for traveling staff and visiting guests from now on, thanks to a deal announced Wednesday with Marriott International Inc.

The hotel chain is picking up the SLOC tab for stays at its properties around the world as the official lodging supplier for the 2002 Winter Games. The contribution — worth at least $5 million — also covers the U.S. Olympic teams through the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece.

"This is a precedent-setting sponsorship for Marriott Corp., their largest ever for a sporting event," SLOC President Mitt Romney said during a telephone press conference from New York City, where he is attending Sport Summit 2000, an international convention of sports marketers.

The terms of the Marriott deal were not disclosed, although Romney said the value is more than $5 million. In 1997, Olympic organizers were counting on receiving more than $10.4 million in contributions from Marriott.

Romney said the budget document, which also specified non-cash contributions expected from longtime Olympic sponsors US West, General Motors, Home Depot and Delta Air Lines, was not shared with Marriott officials. Negotiations on the deal began only about three months ago.

"It was just timing. We waited until things were settled and we could see the direction it was going," said J.W. Marriott Jr., the hotel chain's chairman and chief executive office. "Maybe we're a little late, but here we are. . . . This is a big financial commitment for us. We don't do these things lightly."

Although a competitor, the former Red Lion Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, was a major sponsor of the Olympic bid, Marriott has long been expected to become the official hotel of the 2002 Winter Games because of the company's strong Utah ties.

Romney said his father, George, the former governor of Michigan, and J. Willard Marriott, a descendent of Mormon pioneers and the founder of the hotel chain, were close friends.

Marriott Corp. is a supplier to the Olympics, not a sponsor. Sponsors must come up with at least $20 million in cash, goods and services, while a supplier's contribution typically totals several million dollars and does not include much, if any, cash.

The deal does reduce the amount of the shortfall organizers face in their nearly $1.32 billion budget. Romney said he plans to make public the latest budget gap by the end of the week, with the shortfall expected to be down significantly from the previously announced total, $148 million.

What Marriott is getting for its contribution is the right to advertise its affiliation with the Olympics. The sports marketers gathered in New York are hearing this week that despite the scandal surrounding Salt Lake City's bid, the association is still strong with consumers.

SLOC receives free hotel rooms for its staff during trips out of town as well as for visiting guests. The deal apparently does not affect any rooms set aside for Olympic officials, journalists and sponsors during the Games.

Olympic organizers have already contracted for more than 21,000 hotel rooms throughout the area, including some 85 percent of Marriott's more than 500 hotel rooms in its downtown Salt Lake hotel.

Marriott has more to offer than just the downtown hotel. It is the largest hotelier along the Wasatch Front, with five full-service hotels; six Residence Inn hotels; five Courtyard Inn hotels, including one scheduled to open in Layton in May; seven Fairfield Inn hotels and one TownePlace Suites facility.

The chain also has two vacation ownership resorts in Park City, the Marriott Summit Wasatch and Marriott Mountainside, set to open this spring. The Park City Marriott opened last August and another 370-room, full-service hotel is due to open by the end of the year.