It might be expensive, but it’s just plain business.
When visitors fly into Augusta for the week of the Masters Tournament, prices at local hotels rocket upward. An outsider might raise an eyebrow at the sudden increases, but for most it’s an expected part of coming to Augusta during the first week of April.
“I think the expectations are there,” said Barry White, the president and CEO of the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s the most prestigious sporting event in the world.”
White said it’s no different than trying to book a hotel at the beach during July or August. Demand is high, and so are the prices.
“That seven or eight days is our peak season,” White said. “The same thing happens in Athens every weekend the Dogs are playing.”
Prices can go up in many areas, including restaurants and other businesses that supply services to visitors, such as rental cars, but hotels are the most noticeable and easiest to measure.
The increase in prices and demand for hotels yields about twice the usual amount of hotel excise tax for the city of Augusta, according to numbers supplied by Rob Sherman of Augusta Planning and Development.
It might be more expensive, but don’t call it “gouging,” Sherman said.
He said Georgia law only prohibits businesses from raising prices during the time of an emergency, such as a hurricane evacuation.
During Masters Week, the average room rate climbs from about $65 to more than $250, according to data from Smith Travel Research. Usually the most expensive night is Wednesday, the night before tournament play begins. Last year, Augusta hotel occupancy rate was 95 percent on Wednesday, and the average price was more than $270.
Averages don’t tell the whole story, however. Prices naturally vary depending on location and amenities. The Econo Lodge on Belair Road near Interstate 20 will cost about $220 a night during Masters Week, a little more than four times the usual rate. At the Partridge Inn on Walton Way, a room that would cost about $110 for one night this week will soar above $1,000 during the week of the tournament.
White says guests generally get a little more for the heftier hotel bills, such as transportation to the tournament and free cocktails and meals to make customers feel welcome.
“A lot of the hotels try to provide some added value,” he said, “Our hospitality community really steps up that week.”
Any city that has more than 100,000 visitors in a given week can expect the same sort of price hikes to go along with it.
Louisville, Ky., which hosts the Kentucky Derby every spring, has about 17,000 hotel rooms in the metro area. Many Derby visitors will stay as far away as Lexington, more than an hour away, said Stacey Yates, the vice president of marketing and communications with the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
According to Smith Travel Research, last year’s average room rates peaked at about $360 on Saturday night in the Louisville area.
Yates said it is not uncommon to see $140 per night rooms to jump above $1,000 per night during Derby weekend.
“I’m told it’s simply old-fashioned supply and demand,” Yates said.
So really, the only thing that can drive down hotel prices is an overabundance of rooms.
Augusta currently has about 8,800 hotel rooms, but White isn’t sure when enough will be enough. Because the Augusta National Golf Club doesn’t release the number of tickets it sells, White says it’s hard to know exactly how many hotel rooms Augusta could build before it outpaces demand.
“Impossible to estimate,” White said. “But there are only so many people that can fit on an 18-hole golf course.”