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Full houses, high rates
By MARK ALBRIGHT
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 24, 2001
When new owners took over the Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn at Tampa's Rocky Point last October, they didn't even have to lift a finger to fill their 158 rooms for Super Bowl weekend.
"Both hotels had sold out at our top rates long before we even got here," said Karl Johansson, who manages both properties for Charter One Hotels and Resorts Inc. "There was no price resistance."
Rooms that normally go for $129 a night this time of year went for $199. Guests had to pay for a four-day minimum stay even if they won't be staying that long.
To show their appreciation, the hotel's new owners plan to hand out some souvenir team pennants before game day Sunday.
With more than 100,000 big-spending fans swarming the Tampa Bay area this weekend for Sunday's NFL Championship game, quality hotel rooms are in short supply. Even fair-to-middling lodgings are fetching prices that haven't been seen in a few years. The Super Bowl XXXV fan housing hotline (1-800-922-1681) is directing prospective vacationers to a fast-disappearing hotel room inventory spread from Pinellas County on the west to as far south as Sarasota and east to Orlando.
"We're booked up tighter than a tick," said Paul Catoe, chief of the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau in Tampa. "There are still some rooms available, but most of them are small mom-and-pop type properties."
One exception: the Quality Inn Busch Gardens in Tampa was parceling out the last of 50 rooms left open by a California travel agency's cancellation after the Oakland Raiders lost in the playoffs. Rooms that normally go for $89 were being filled at $179.
The St. Petersburg-Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau said 900 rooms of its 35,000 rooms were unsold Tuesday, most of them condo rentals or smaller independent properties.
And rooms aren't going cheap. The going rates for rooms in the bay area have escalated to hotel rack rates. Those are the rates posted on each hotel room door, and they represent the most the state allows a hotel to charge for a room unless management files a higher price list with the state. No consumer complaints of overcharging have been filed with the state Division of Hotels and Restaurants.
"I haven't seen rates this high since the evacuation caused by Hurricane Floyd in 1999," said Grayson Wood, the division safety and sanitation director in Tampa.
Generally, a standard single room in Hillsborough or Pinellas is fetching $175 to $450 a night this weekend, with the top prices commanded in upscale properties along the beaches, West Shore and in downtown Tampa. Normally the same rooms go for $79 to $300 a night in this peak season of the year. Most hotels are insisting on a four-night minimum stay, although some are settling for three.
All this is fine with the NFL, which has been trying to ride herd on outrageous hotel pricing since the 1979 Super Bowl in Miami. That's when many beach hotels tried to slap a seven-day minimum stay on guests who on average spend 3.3 days in a Super Bowl city before leaving right after the game. "There has been some gouging this time," said Jim Steeg, NFL vice president of special events. "The good hotels don't give us a problem, but there are always a few others that do."
The NFL also complained about a few hotels that added nightly minimum food and beverage charges. "At one place it added up to another $1,000 per couple over four days," Steeg said.
Minimums require guests to spend a set amount on meals, on-site recreation and drinks during their stay or pay the difference. At the sold-out Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg, guests face a $200 a night per room minimum to be spent on food, drinks, golf or tennis. The hotel didn't tack the charge on rooms the NFL booked. A food and beverage minimum didn't keep the Belleview Biltmore Resort in Belleair from selling out, but the resort declined to say how much it got. "We went to our regular corporate clients two years ago and filled up on a first come, first served basis," said sales director Marcus Lund.
Of about 55,000 hotel rooms in the Tampa Bay area, the most jammed are the top tier properties that blocked out 18,000 rooms four years ago for the NFL, its teams and corporate guests. Because a few large hotels chose not to be part of the room block this time, the NFL relied on a larger contingent of hotels around Walt Disney World in Orlando. Of the 18,000 rooms in the block, 8,000 are in Hillsborough; 6,000 are in Pinellas; and about 4,000 are in Orlando.
Some hotels even agreed to sell their rooms for less than the rack rate because the NFL groups will occupy them for a longer stay.
That's made some properties particularly football-intense this week. For instance, the Wyndham Westshore in Tampa filled 284 of its 324 rooms with NFL-related guests, including the New York Giants team. Six more rooms are being held for Don Shula, the former Miami Dolphins coach who co-owns the hotel's steakhouse.
"We had nine TV stations broadcasting from the lobby today," manager Richard Staley said.
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