Hotels in NASCAR race of their own

Thursday, May. 27, 2010

CONCORD, N.C. – With weekend packages, “We Love Race Fans” balloons and tables covered with race pamphlets, hotels near Charlotte Motor Speedway are doing everything they can to bring in race fans in light of a weak economy and increased competition.

Two years ago, hotels sold out three months in advance; this year, most hotels still have a handful of rooms available for the weekend.

“You just don’t know what to expect,” said Nancy Obstler, director of sales at the Embassy Suites near the speedway. “I think everything started with the attendance drop in these races last year. These two years are much different than the year before.”

Hotels face more competition, too. Six new hotels have opened in Cabarrus County since July, providing 885 more rooms to fill, according to Cabarrus County Convention & Visitors Bureau records.

That makes about 2,700 rooms available in the county, up 58 percent from four years ago. The races also draws fans to hotels in other parts of the Charlotte region.

“We are pretty much expecting to sell out based on the area of town we’re in,” said Brian Dunleavy, assistant general manager at SpringHill Suites in the University City area. “But with the recession people aren’t traveling as much. We see that in our business every day.”

Hotel rates always climb during the May races; a standard room that otherwise costs $119 jumps up to $180, about a 50 percent increase.

Officials at the Concord Hampton Inn and Suites near the speedway expect monthly room revenue to be about $330,000, up about $15,000 from last year – but down significantly from $472,000 for the same month in 2008.

Room prices fell about $40 from last year. Now, rooms range from $180 for a standard room to $220 for a suite.

Smaller hotels, such as Holiday Inn Express at Interstate 85 Exit 49, with 79 rooms, have already sold out.

The Hilton Garden Inn, also at Exit 49, which has been open for only seven weeks, has two rooms left for Saturday and six for Sunday. Mitch Frye, operations manager at the hotel, expects it to sell out for the weekend with rates at $209 for a standard room. The hotel lowered tonight’s rate to $149, as it was lagging behind with 63 of its 118 rooms left to sell as of Thursday afternoon.

Frye, also the operations manager of the Wingate next door, said it lowered this weekend’s rate from $219 to $189 in April because reservations were not picking up as fast as expected. The hotel now has just a handful of its 93 rooms left for Saturday and Sunday and about 23 left for tonight.

“I don’t think the lag is so much the economy,” he said. “I think it’s saturation in the market. So many new hotels have opened, so there’s a lot of competition.”

Meanwhile, at the track, admissions revenue at the speedway for the May races is similar to last year, and ticket sales picked up this week because of the popularity of last week’s race, said speedway spokesman Scott Cooper. The speedway does not release attendance numbers or revenue.

Concord-based Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns Charlotte Motor Speedway and seven other tracks, reported a 56 percent drop in net income this month, a 20 percent drop in admissions-related revenue and a 13 percent drop in events-related revenue, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“I don’t think the lag is so much the economy. I think it’s saturation in the market.” Mitch Frye, operations manager of two Concord hotels near the speedway.