With more than 13,000 hotel rooms in the Omaha area, a visitor in town for this year's College World Series always has a place to wind down.
That's a 10 percent jump over the room count four years ago, when old Rosenblatt Stadium hosted its next-to-last CWS.
Even so, some fans found lodging beyond the metro area in cities like Lincoln, realizing that the farther away from home plate they got, the lesser the toll on their pocketbook.
This year on busy tournament nights, certain beds within a stroll of the downtown TD Ameritrade Park cost 200 percent more than normal, topping $500 with tax. An hour's drive away in Lincoln, hotel prices also jumped but not to the same degree.
Taking all hotels across Douglas County into account, the average charge was nearly 50 percent more during the 10-day series in 2012 than the year-round average of $95, according to a report to the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau by Smith Travel Research. Summer rates in general are higher than during slower times of the year.
While some visitors cry foul, others accept the spiking as the cost of a hit-it-out-of-the-park vacation. Those in the hotel industry say they're reacting to supply and demand, something peers across the country do as well. That there's even a debate about it tells Dana Markel, head of the visitors bureau, that Omaha is evolving.
“Omaha is becoming an event city,” Markel said. “Prices rise with demand. We can't control that. It happens for the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, for the Super Bowl, the Republican National Convention, the Democratic National Convention. Prices are going to go up.”
Markel said she has not fielded any complaints from CWS fans, although she recalls the matter surfacing about four or five years ago among Berkshire Hathaway Inc. stockholders. Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett actually attended a meeting of hotel general managers, said Markel, and wondered whether annual shareholders saw the same rates as visiting baseball fans.
The meeting ended on a good note, as Markel recalled, and hotel managers stayed their course.
Rob Grimm, general manager at Hampton Inn & Suites Lincoln Northeast likened CWS pricing in Omaha to when the Huskers play big rivals and Hampton guests are greeted with a markup.
“You might hear comments around the breakfast area, but people expect it,” Grimm said. “It's like that in every market. Cities that host huge events, you're going to expect to pay outrageous prices.”
Grimm said prices at the 83-room Hampton, just off Interstate 80 in Lincoln, rise during the CWS generally about $40, or 30 percent. Most nights are sold out, in part because of youth baseball players from across the nation that participate in tournaments timed around the NCAA tourney, he said.
But the major youth tournament played during the CWS, the SlumpBuster, has seen a reduction in the number of visiting teams, and Triple Crown Sports organizers attribute that partly to rising hotel prices.
SlumpBuster this year registered 421 teams, down from 505 last summer. With each team comes about 40 people, said spokesman Keri King, which means nearly 17,000 tourists throughout this year's event.
“It's not difficult to find rooms, it's just difficult to find a rate that would accommodate teams,” said Christina Mascarenaz, who handles lodging for the tournament.
The average night at hotels secured for SlumpBuster families was about $170, up about 15 percent from last year, King said. Most stay in Douglas County, although teams also stay in Bellevue, La Vista and Fremont. Triple Crown negotiates discounted rates in advance.
Joe and Heather Collins of Colorado are among families who plan vacation around the CWS and baseball tournaments for their boys. Son Bailey, 15, plays in an Omaha-based high school tournament; Jake, 13, plays in SlumpBuster, and Cade, 7, is along to swim and watch baseball.
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