How busy are Augusta hotels because of Hurricane Irma? A manager at the Super 8 on Washington Road, who declined to give her name, said she was too busy Friday to talk to a reporter.
“Now is not a good time,” she said. “I have 12 more people coming in right now.”
Last October, when coastal evacuees fled Hurricane Matthew, virtually all of Augusta’s estimated 7,000 hotel rooms filled up.
The same thing appeared to be happening last week as residents from Florida and coastal Georgia steered clear of Irma.
Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau President Barry White said Friday he expects area hotels to reach 95 percent occupancy, well over the usual 60 percent for this time of year. At that occupancy rate, assuming two guests per room, about 7,000 hotel rooms would house roughly 13,000 guests every night for as many as six days.
“And then you’re going to have people staying in private homes, Airbnb rentals, shelters and other things, so the number of people in town is going to be very high,” he said.
Almost all the 115 rooms at Hyatt Place Augusta on Mason McKnight Jr. Parkway are filled through Thursday, said hotel sales director Michelle Hardy. “For the most part 90 percent of our hotel stays booked,” she said.
Hyatt Place has brought in additional freezers to accommodate anticipated increased food demands from extra guests, Hardy said. The hotel also stocked up on bottled water and other supplies, including flashlights for guests in case of power outages.
But that might not be a big problem, because the hotel also has a backup generator.
She said the hotel is “giving the same service, but with a little accent of knowing that some of them may be more distressed than our usual travelers,” and to “make them feel a little bit more home-away-from-home.”
Swati Patel, general manager of the Knights Inn on Boy Scout Road, said her 94 rooms are booked through Tuesday, but Friday that was starting to change.
“Some people are calling because they think it’s going to hit Augusta on Monday, so for Sunday and Monday they’re canceling,” she said.
Selena Martignoni, assistant general manager of the Holiday Inn Express Augusta North on Stevens Creek Road, was seeing the same trend.
“We are currently sold out from (Friday) up until Wednesday of (this) week, but it’s been fluctuating on and off,” she said. “Some people are canceling and deciding to go in different directions because they think our area might be affected as well.”
Still, she said all 86 of her rooms are booked through Monday.
Many evacuees drove from their homes to Augusta. The 105-space Heritage RV Park on Wrightsboro Road only had three spots available on Friday. General Manager Mike Jackson said he worked 14 hours on Thursday, which is about as busy as a day during Masters Week, the park’s single busiest time of year.
“During storms it gets kind of hectic,” he said. “Especially during evacuations.”
Jackson said conflicting reports on the storm’s path caused some of the arrivals to depart and head further inland.
“Some folks are afraid and are leaving, but we have people right behind them checking in,” he said.
But humans aren’t the only Irma evacuees.
Brian Graham, director of corporate events for Morris Communications Co., the parent company of The Augusta Chronicle, said the company-owned Hippodrome facility in North Augusta is serving as an evacuation center for large animals throughout the Southeast.
“We’re expecting quite a few people out there, bringing mainly horses,” said Graham, adding that evacuations in previous years have seen other animals – such as goats and llamas – occupying stalls. “People who are evacuating have to do something with their animals.”
Graham said he expected most evacuees to arrive over the weekend as equine facilities in north Florida and south Georgia fill up. The Aiken Fairgrounds also serves as an animal evacuation shelter.