Hotels are expensive during Formula One week, but $10,000 a night?
That price showed up on websites earlier this week for the InterContinental Deluxe Room at the Stephen F. Austin.
“That will come down soon,” promised the hotel’s general manager, George Hall, who attributed the listing to a glitch of some kind. Now, the hotel’s highest-priced suite is listed at $4,500.
There might not be a five-figure room for Formula One weekend, but downtown hotels are charging well into four figures for a night’s stay from Nov. 14-17. During that stretch, the University of Texas football team also has a showdown at home against Oklahoma State on Saturday, Nov. 16.
“It’s going to be a very busy weekend,” said Tracy Terrell, director of sales and marketing for the downtown Marriott Courtyard, which is asking and getting $799 a night. “We’re going to be sold out.”
According to Expedia, an Internet travel booking site, the average daily rate for a four-star hotel in Austin during race weekend is $1,125, while three-star hotels average $503 and the average for all hotels is $462.
At those prices, a frugal F1 fan could book a four-night stay in nearby San Antonio for what it costs for a single night at a comparable hotel in Austin.
That’s assuming you can book your hotel of choice in downtown Austin. At the W’s website, it shows rooms are not available from Nov. 14-17. Ditto for the Four Seasons.
The InterContinental’s website lists the “cheapest” room for the Stephen F. Austin as $1,519 a night while suites range from $1,800 to $4,500. Hotel Saint Cecilia’s available rooms are suites priced from $2,400 to $4,000. Rooms at the Driskill start at $1,419.
Hotels outside of the downtown area are asking two times to maybe three times their standard rate. Downtown, the more popular multiplier appears to be four.
A local tourism official said Tuesday there were not yet concerns those prices will scare off visitors or cramp other businesses.
“People are going to test the waters with some rates that are not the norm around here,” said Bob Lander, president and CEO of the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There’s a fine line, but I don’t think anyone is interested in hurting the event or hurting other merchants.”
There are some less expensive options for visitors.
Bargain hunters have already snapped up most of the $120-a-night rooms at various Motel 6 locations in the area, but there are some San Antonio motel rooms that can be had for less than $50 a night. The Knights Inn and Suites Downtown/Market Square in San Antonio lists a hard-to-beat rate of $35.
“San Antonio is going to get some business out of this. They’re actively working on it,” Lander said.
Last year, when Austin was host to its inaugural Formula One Grand Prix, many local hotels seemed to have no idea what the market would bear, even though there was a model to copy in Montreal, the only other North American city to host an F1 race.
One Montreal official in the hotel industry suggested Austin innkeepers should look at what they charged during the city’s biggest festival (think South by Southwest) and then add $50 or $100 per night.
A few Austin-area hotels, however, initially asked for seven or eight times their normal rates. Even some usually savvy hotels asked for five-day reservations, which rankled F1 fans used to the four-day norm.
“I think everybody has learned from that experience,” Terrell said. “The consumer also learned.”
Eventually, matters sorted out last year and many area hotels enjoyed a windfall generated by the race, which had an attendance total of more than 117,000 on Sunday, the final day.
During the five-day period that ended on Sunday, Nov. 18, of last year, Austin area hotels took in $32 million, tripling what they made during the same stretch in 2011. On Saturday, Nov. 17, of last year 94.4 percent of almost 30,000 hotel rooms in the Austin area were occupied, and the average room rate was just more than $300, according to industry monitor Smith Travel Research.
It doesn’t appear there will be a drop-off this year.
“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in business,” said Terrell, adding that the downtown Marriott properties were seeing more group business from F1 teams and sponsors this year.