Some international tour operators who specialize in Formula One race packages are hyping the 2013 United States Grand Prix and the vibrant Texas city of — San Antonio.
Others are looking to book blocks of hotel rooms in San Marcos — “San Marvelous,” as one tour website referred to it. And a few tour operators have gone so far as not to offer an Austin hotel option for the Nov. 17 race, blaming the high prices Austin hotels charged last year for the city’s inaugural F1 Grand Prix week.
“For some reason the hotels believed they could charge more than hotels in Monaco,” John Sinker, of English tour operator MotoExpress, said in an email to the American-Statesman. “They did not understand that F1 fans are very international and they think nothing about traveling around the world to watch races. However, if presented with a choice of going to the Monaco F1 and the Austin F1 and if Monaco is cheaper, they will go to Monaco every time.”
Sinker said he had scouted Austin hotel locations as early as 2011, but without success.
With the uncertainty about whether Circuit of the Americas — which will host its second race, Grand-Am of the Americas, this weekend — could pull off last year’s inaugural race, South Africa-based F1 Grand Prix Tours didn’t put together a 2012 tour package.
“I think people were a bit unsure in 2012 so hopefully we will have better sales for 2013,” Marco van Veelen of F1 Grand Prix Tours said in an email. “We stay in San Antonio as it is cheaper and their (hotels) are better.”
Formula Tours, a Canadian operation, offers two San Antonio options as well as several Austin hotels. The company’s F1 package including the San Antonio Hyatt is slightly less (four days plus a Turn 12 seat, $1,799) than a similar one for a Holiday Inn Express in Austin (same package, $1,979).
Select Motor Racing, in the United Kingdom, has two hotel options in San Marcos, calling that town “the perfect place to play and stay” and noting that “San Marcos is just a short hop to circuit and avoids all the Austin traffic.”
Another U.K. tour operator, Grand Prix Adventures, offers an Austin hotel (Embassy Suites, downtown) for its platinum level and the W for its diamond level, but its gold level hotel is a Holiday Inn Express in San Marcos.
Last year during F1 week, San Antonio hotels were markedly cheaper than Austin hotels. According to data supplied from Hotels for Hope, the booking partner of Circuit of the Americas, the average daily rate for Austin hotels that week was $393.69, while San Antonio hotels were at $184.20.
San Antonio hotels, fueled by thousands of visitors from Mexico, still made plenty of money during F1 week; revenue was up 40 percent over a similar time from the previous year, yielding about an additional $5 million, according to STR, an American company that tracks hotel supply and demand.
A representative with the Menger Hotel in San Antonio said MotoExpress booked about 20 rooms last year for F1 week. MotoExpress’ F1 package for 2013 includes a champagne cruise on the River Walk and a welcoming party in the Menger bar, a replica of London’s House of Lords Pub.
Sinker, apparently, is happy with those arrangements.
“We will not give the Austin hotels a second chance,” he said.