During this year's CWS, some hotel rooms near ballpark top $500 a night with tax - Omaha.com
Published Friday, June 21, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 5:28 pm
During this year's CWS, some hotel rooms near ballpark top $500 a night with tax

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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The Collinses are staying at the Bluffs' Country Inn & Suites, and paying $175 a night — times five nights, said dad.

“It's a little out of line from the standpoint of you're kind of stuck,” Collins said. “We knew coming in they jack the rates.”

Still, he said, his family loves the atmosphere and plans to take in CWS and other tourism action. “They love it,” he said. “It's a whole baseball weekend.”

Closer to TD Ameritrade Park, a room Wednesday at the Holiday Inn Downtown at 14th and Cuming Streets was going for $449 without tax, compared with a $139 advertised rate for a less eventful Wednesday in July.

Nathaniel Rold, assistant manager, said the 114-room hotel has remained mostly full since the start of the CWS, because it was hosting the University of North Carolina squad. The Tar Heels won an elimination game Thursday night and will play another one tonight, and loyal fans are staying with them in Omaha.

Hotels close to the stadium and downtown entertainment venues command higher prices. “It's all about location, location, location,” said Rold.

Jon Bailey of Atlanta, who is unattached to a team and here to enjoy the overall baseball fervor, planned ahead to snag a downtown room at the Hilton Omaha. His insurance company is paying for agents and clients, however, so the hotel bill was less of a concern for him.

“I'm not sure what it will look like,” he said while finishing a bowl of cereal in the hotel lobby.

Lynn Darbyshire paid to stay at the Hilton with his wife, friends and others connected to his grandson's team and CWS participant, Indiana University. As a retired athletic director and father-in-law of the Hoosiers' baseball coach, Darbyshire has experience following high-profile sporting events.

He's been to numerous professional games and championships. Fans, he noted, have a choice whether to pay the going rate or not.

“What bothers me is they're making it like the NBA,” Darbyshire said on his seventh day in Omaha. “They make it hard on blue-collar Americans.”

Indeed, he said, a busload of Hoosier fans opted to drive to Omaha for a couple of CWS games and return without staying overnight. Other family members stayed farther from downtown, where prices weren't as high.

Hoteliers say their prices fluctuate even during the tournament, as they react to the unpredictable nature of their game. The first four days of the tournament are always busiest, said Kristen Blattert, director of sales for Embassy Suites in the Old Market.

As losing teams leave town, rooms open and prices might drop. Rooms were available for this weekend at Embassy Suites and elsewhere.

For Monday, when the CWS championship series starts, a room at the Embassy Suites was going online for $369 without tax, up nearly 100 percent from a Monday in mid-July.

Rick Hughes, president of the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association, said prices at high-profile tourism events are always a thorny matter but one dictated by hotels and the market they serve.

In the end, he said, a good rule of thumb is: “If people are purchasing them, the price is probably OK.”

Contact the writer: Cindy Gonzalez

cindy.gonzalez@owh.com    |   402-444-1224    |  

Cindy covers residential and commercial real estate, economic development, tourism and hotels, and immigration issues related to businesses.

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