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Running out of rooms

by Tom Hasslinger
| June 17, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - It's no secret Coeur d'Alene makes its money in the summer. Special events and tourism is a big draw for the Lake City, so local businesses typically feel a boost in the pocketbook as soon as the sun begins to shine.

COEUR d'ALENE - It's no secret Coeur d'Alene makes its money in the summer.

Special events and tourism is a big draw for the Lake City, so local businesses typically feel a boost in the pocketbook as soon as the sun begins to shine.

Especially hotels, who book up months before the seasonal events begin. And now that Ironman - not to mention Hoopfest - is just around the corner, visitors still searching for digs will probably have to pay a raised price if they manage to find a room.

Call it price gouging, call it simple supply and demand, but those with rooms know people will pay for a place to stay.

Even private citizens are getting more involved in the trade by renting out their homes to visitors. With 70,000 visitors expected in Coeur d'Alene for Ironman, and another 200,000 in Spokane for Hoopfest, there seems to be enough to go around.

"We try not to gouge, we try not to go crazy," said Christina Petit, director of sales at the Holiday Inn Express. "But in the hotel business, June through August is when we're busy and we raise our rates because that's when we make our money."

The 101-room hotel is booked out Ironman week leading up to the June 27 race. It typically bumps its rates by 30 percent from the winter to the summer, and another 15 percent on top of that for race week.

Petit didn't want to disclose rates, but for the extra money, the hotel caters to Ironmen, feeding them for free and offering gift baskets.

The hotel hasn't seen the last minute cancellations as it has in years past because of Hoopfest. While a portion of Ironmen decide not to go through with the race, people in town to play basketball don't cancel at the last minute.

"It's great for hotels," she said of the simultaneously scheduled events.

Rick Kumar at the Comfort Inn in Post Falls calls the bumped prices market sharing.

There's a five night minimum at his hotel, and rooms which usually cost around $100 a night can fetch $350 a night leading up to the race.

"It's the demands of the market," he said. "We filled up eight or nine months out."

The Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce estimates the city has around 11,000 hotel beds to offer. And most are nearly filled, with the majority of the yet-filled rooms available because some racers have second thoughts at the last minute.

"It seems like the call volume has gone up compared to the past," on visitors to both events calling for rooms said Steve Wilson, general manager at the Best Western Coeur d'Alene Inn. "Two of the area's greatest events fall on the same weekend. It'd be nice to coordinate when that doesn't happen, but that being said, without them, who knows what the demand would be."

The 122-bed inn filled out for the week a couple of weeks ago. It didn't raise its price above the 15 percent seasonal bump added throughout the summer, so its Ironman rate stays constant around $150 to $180 a night.

Locals have noticed the demand for rooms, too as more people are renting out their homes. The chamber's Ironman accommodation directory lists 18 hotels and motels, 13 bed and breakfasts, and nearly 81 private homes. Those homes don't include all the people renting them out on their own on websites like Craigslist.

"It's always going to be a big thing, as long as Ironman is here," said Tawnya Mathers, who started a vacation rental business, CDA Getaway, after realizing the demand for housing Ironman brings. "People are realizing they can rent their homes, they're saying, 'I can make money.'"

Home rentals offer a niche to Ironmen, as it gives them a full kitchen to prepare the meals they need to fuel them to the finish. Mathers' business, in its second year, has filled its 40 homes for race week.

For those who rent out, the rewards are obvious.

"It helps me pay my taxes," said Evalyn Adams, who rented out her home to three guests for $325 a bed per night for the week. "I retired on a fixed income and since I retired I haven't been working to earn money."

But with more people offering their abodes, is the market flooding?

Darin Deck hasn't had any offers this year, when he would get 10 offers a year in the past two years. Surprising, he said, since the race entries expanded this year to around 2,500 racers.

"If it rents it rents," he said.

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