Hotel rooms costly but filling up for WEG

With about 300 days until international horse sport fans descend on Kentucky for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, cheap hotel rooms in the Bluegrass are extinct. Even expensive ones are going fast.

To stay in Lexington, where the Kentucky Horse Park will host the games, likely will cost $300 a night and up. Sometimes way up — the Marriott Griffin Gate's Presidential Suites are sold out at $4,999 a night for five key days during dressage and eventing.

To get into the $100 neighborhood, you'll likely have to look outside Central Kentucky. But your room might be very convenient to the Cincinnati or Louisville airports.

Even though rates are often double or triple everyday prices, they are not out of line for an event of international magnitude, said John Johnson, executive vice president of Short's Travel Management, the games' official housing partner.

"The perception is that it's high but people can still find properties that fit their budget. It just depends on how far out they have to drive," Johnson said.

Overall, lots of rooms can still be had in Kentucky for the games, he said, which run Sept. 25 through Oct. 10.

There are about 7,000 hotel rooms available through the housing bureau. And about 50 percent of the "room-nights" — about 70,000 so far — are booked.

And prices have come down.

"We're under an average room rate of $300 per night," Johnson said. "There are a lot of values. Hotels, especially for groups, are very competitive."

Earlier this spring, pricing "was out of kilter," he said. Before WEG tickets went on sale Sept. 25, many hotels had difficulty gauging the market. Even so-called limited service properties (think a place without a restaurant, someplace normally about $60-$100 a night) were starting at $400.

"When hotel prices originally came out, they were high across the board," Johnson said. "People just didn't know how to price something like this that had never been held here before."

His group went to hotels last spring with feedback from equestrian teams and other groups that "these rates are too high."

"I'm very pleased that the vast majority re-evaluated and, for the most part, came down," he said.

Rooms at all price levels can be found through the WEG housing site,

Some hotels also are listing separately or through travel Web sites.

The WEG housing bureau has about 130 hotel properties on its Web site, some in Lexington, some in outlying areas, and about 18 of those are booked with groups and teams, Johnson said.

Many Lexington hotels will be full of sponsors, competitors and media.

For instance, Alltech, the $10 million title sponsor of the games, has reserved the downtown Hilton, all 377 newly renovated rooms and assorted meeting rooms, for an undisclosed price for 18 days.

Alltech will be housing artists, vets, global sponsorship partners from 58 companies, and staff for various festivals, symposia, and the games, said Alltech spokeswoman Susanna Elliott. "We are literally bringing people from all over the world."

But if you're looking for just a room or two, you might squeeze in some place in Lexington.

If price is no problem, then check out the Crowne Plaza Lexington (otherwise known as The Campbell House). Suites with fireplaces, wet bars and whirlpool tubs are available for $1,000-$1,799 a night. Or you can stay in a standard room for $475.

Normally, even during a big weekend with similarly horsey attractions, such as the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in April or the Kentucky Derby in May, a nice room at the Campbell House is available for under $200 and a suite for under $400.

Johnson, with the housing bureau, pointed out that hotels have a limited number of ultra rooms to offer, "so they are waiting for that right buyer."

At the Hyatt Regency downtown, next door to Rupp Arena, standard rooms are available for $475 a night. But suites, ranging from $1,785 to $2,500 a night (four-night minimum) are gone.

While the Marriott Griffin Gate's pricier suites are largely booked, some regular rooms and suites are available most nights for $565 to $705.

The Embassy Suites across the road has rooms for $450 a night.

The Gratz Park Inn has rooms with one bed from $375, but all their two-bed rooms are sold at $425, as are the $599 king suites after Oct. 5, when jumping, driving, vaulting and paradressage will all be taking place.

Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill is a bit of a drive, but it's proving very popular, even at up to $299 a night. There are rooms available from $179 to $199.

Most major places of lodging listed online through services like Orbitz, Expedia or Travelocity said they were sold out, in part because they were booking through the housing bureau.

Exceptions include Baymont Inn & Suites near Winchester Road, where the cheapest room is $300 a night. Similarly, the Days Inn on North Broadway wants $246.

The Hilton Garden Inn near Hamburg has some rooms left at $289, and nearby Sleep Inn has some for what could be a bargain $229 a night.

If you don't mind driving back and forth to Louisville, the historic Four Diamond Brown Hotel has rooms for $204 a night. And the hip 21c Museum Hotel has rooms for $239.

Traveling for such an event isn't unusual. David Lord, president of the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that when the Kentucky contingent went to the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, "we stayed 45 minutes away, actually in the Netherlands."

They found three condos at a tourist camp. "It was a bunch of Dutch families with their kids, and us."

A surge of bookings is expected after the first of the year, Johnson said. "Group interest is still extremely strong," he said.

He said that for non-equestrian fans looking to come to Central Kentucky during the games, the housing bureau may be your best bet because it tracks empty rooms.

So even if you're not interested in the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, here's a heads up to University of Kentucky football fans and Keeneland race fans: There's a traffic jam on the horizon for the weekend of Oct. 8-9.

That's the last big flurry of WEG, the track will be racing, and UK will play Auburn at home. So Auburn fans may need to plan on sleeping in Tennessee.

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