Osceola Experience: Hotel deals to be found, one-night stays available

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If you’ve been reading the message boards you would swear you can’t get a room in Tallahassee for a Florida State home game for less than $500 per night.

But a survey of Book Direct, the reservation site featured on VisitTallahassee.com, refutes this if you are willing to book a guaranteed, non-refundable room. 

Again, the common perception is all Tallahassee hotels demand a two-night minimum but turns out that’s not entirely true this year either.

The Osceola Experience covers the fan experience to provide Osceola readers with information they can use to enjoy Seminole sports affordably and conveniently. We’ll research alternatives and report what we find about hotels, restaurants, entertainment and tickets. And we want you to report what you find too so we can share it with our readers.

Since it’s that time of year when Seminole fans have to make decisions on tickets, we thought the timing would be right to deliver a multi-part look at ticket and lodging options available to the Seminole faithful. Last week we evaluated the new flexible ticket packages FSU is offering and this week we’ll begin to examine lodging options.

The first story in this series begins in Tallahassee with the traditional local hotels for those fans who want the convenience of being in the heart of the action. In the coming weeks, we’ll look at lodging and AirBnBs in nearby communities and consider alternative rentals or purchases of a recreational vehicle, camper or second home. We’re interested to know where you stay when you come to games so we can share that with others. Please email me at jkutz@theosceola.com

Tallahassee hotels

There are three or four properties asking $500 but they are the exception and then only for the best three games. Many of the Tallahassee hotels are offering rates half of that, even for Miami, Louisville, NC State and Syracuse.

What our research revealed surprised us because even we had bit into the perception local hotels were asking an arm and a leg. The perception hurts FSU, the hotels and the fans.

Since the vast majority of Florida State’s 350,000 plus alumni, boosters and fans live more than 150 miles from Tallahassee, lodging is a primary factor in planning trips back to their alma mater for football games and other sports events and there’s been little guidance on what is available.

A survey of the 60-plus local hotel properties shows 30 to 40 of them still have rooms available for home football games. More than half of those properties are asking $299 or less per night. There are 15 properties with rooms under $199 for the home opener against Louisiana Monroe and a half dozen under $199 for FSU’s games against Louisville, Miami and Syracuse.

Here’s the full breakdown of local hotel prices by game:

Tallahassee In-Town Lodging (September)

Tallahassee In-Town Lodging (October and November)

You can check local hotel prices for yourself on visittallahassee.com

Lower demand affects price

These hotel rates are a reflection of lower demand for tickets, which is a good thing for readers thinking about renewing or buying tickets and prefer a room in Tallahassee where you can walk, pedicab or shuttle to a game. The supply of Tallahassee hotel rooms will grow by some 1,000 rooms by 2020, which logically will affect price too.

More than 70 percent of FSU’s season-ticket base lives more than 150 miles from Tallahassee so typically the demand for lodging has exceeded supply. But there has been a steady decline in renewal rates since the 2013 national championship – an average renewal rate of 85 percent – and this year’s renewal rate (currently 70 percent) may not be over 80 percent for the 2019 season. That decrease in demand has affected new ticket sales as well.

It is a chicken and egg thing with hotel prices and football tickets. Demand for tickets affects demand for hotel rooms and therefore hotel prices.

Mark Cameron, who heads up Florida State’s ticket sales and service operations, has been talking to FSU ticket customers for eight years and has managed the department for three. He and his team talk to more than 10,000 existing season-ticket holders and prospects every year.  

He said hotel price is one of the top three objections cited by season-ticket holders and prospective new ticket buyers when making a purchase decision. The other common objections are performance on the field and life circumstances such as age, children or physical inability of husband or wife.

“Price, specifically hotel prices, are a top-three objection for out-of-town season ticket holders and prospects,” Cameron said. “Many will say $700 for two season tickets isn’t an issue but tell us they will have to spend $700, or more, for hotels for one weekend alone with the two-night minimum.”

Cameron believes the availability of rooms in the $149 to $299 price range should help his team with both the renewal rate and new sales in the 100 days prior to the first home game but would like to see hotels offer a one-night rate.

Two-night minimum

“The two-night minimum is always a sticking point,” he said. “Some of our customers only want a room for one night so they view the $199 per night rate as $398,” he said.

Some of the hotels still aren’t flexible but quite a few are now willing to offer some one-night stays, which Cameron believes will be the tipping point for some customers.

If there is any silver lining to the Seminoles’ first losing season since 1976, this could be it.

Last season was a bust for FSU and for the hotels as Seminole fans cancelled rooms for the remaining games. The experience led hotels to lower rates with a guaranteed, pre-paid price and many are now offering the one-night reservations for some games.

It is reminiscent of the early 2000s, toward the end of the Bowden era, when 4,500 season-ticket holders gave up 14,000 season tickets. Of those people who gave up their seats, many were from out of town and they too cited hotel prices – especially the two-night minimum – among their reasons for dropping seats, too.

FSU President T.K. Wetherell and I plead our case to the industry. “You are shooting the Golden Goose,” TK told the local hoteliers. “We need to help each other.”

The son of a hotelier, TK knew football weekends, graduation and the legislative session were the only weeks local hotels turned the room lights on. Vacancies were high the rest of the year, so he didn’t expect them to lower rates on their prime times. Instead, we asked them to offer two rates: their typical two-night rate and a one-night rate, even if it was $50 or $100 higher than the two-night rate. We just wanted to give our customers a one-night option.

We saw it as a win-win for the hotel, the customer and the ticket office. And we told them if they would do it, we would promote the heck out of the properties who did to help them fill those rooms.

One of the major hoteliers saw the wisdom and promoted it to the group and several took FSU up on it.

The hotels are now having those conversations again, TK.

I called several on this list as a secret shopper. I asked about price, availability and the two-night minimum requirement. Some agreed to a one-night stay for any game. I also shopped Hilton.com and Marriott.com to see if I could do it online and I could. I entered just one night for the home opener against Louisiana Monroe. Several rooms popped up, one for $142 at a Marriott property for one night. So I clicked on it and made it to check out, albeit with a warning it is a prepaid, non-refundable rate.

Solid. There are one-night rates available online even with the big flags. You just have to look.

While there is not a list I can include in this article, my “source” is going to feed us tips to share with you throughout the year.

The first tip: the hotels always release a number of rooms to one-night reservations right after the network announces game times so be prepared.

The second tip: the properties at the intersections of I-10 are more likely to offer one-night reservations than hotels closer to the stadium. Those hotels will likely offer one-night stays for all games, with the possible exception being Parents Weekend and Miami.

Game experience

For tickets to sell and hotel rooms to fill, this second-year coaching staff must show anticipated improvement. Hope will rise if they do, especially with a couple of early season wins. A win over Boise State in Jacksonville could send many Seminoles back to the ticket window and hotel lobbies especially with the flexible ticket options we wrote about last week.

That would be a good thing.

My take: In terms of convenience, it is nice to stay at a traditional hotel right in Tallahassee where you can enjoy the Friday Night Block Party and take a pedicab or shuttle to the crib when it’s done. Lower rates and one-night stays – in combination with the flexible ticket packages — should encourage some Seminoles to consider coming back home this year. We’ll continue to follow local Tallahassee hotels throughout the year, alerting you to any useful information we glean.

Please share your Seminole Experiences with me – good or bad – so I can share them with others.

Osceola researcher Will Wallace contributed to this report

Next up: In the next segment of the Osceola Experience, we will explore affordable lodging opportunities in nearby communities, some for under $100, and we will examine AirBnB. So please, if you’ve used AirBnB share your experiences with your fellow Osceola readers.

Comments

  1. Beth Burr Reply

    Jerry Kutz, this is one of the major reasons we decided to move to Tallahassee!

    • Jerry Kutz Reply

      Well there’s another silver lining!
      Glad you are here and I will say you and yours sure make use of all the sports.

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