It sounded good on paper: big spenders willing to book rooms in Toledo for four nights at premium prices to be in proximity to Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
But 10 days before the championship football game an hour's drive up I-75, reality is setting in. Detroit in the winter is not quite the destination trip that event organizers had envisioned and the Toledo area might not get an expected economic boost.
"It's not going to be as lucrative as everyone had thought it was going to be," said Greg Gooding, general manager of the 241-room Wyndham-Toledo.
"We're already flirting with dropping our prices," he said. The rooms are $199 per night for the Super Bowl weekend, Feb. 4-5. A room this weekend can be rented for $129.
James Donnelly, president and chief executive of the Greater Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he expects a $2.5 million economic impact in the Toledo area from visitors staying in area hotels and motels, eating in local restaurants, and buying gasoline.
His staff has been working for six years with the National Football League and its representatives to lock up hotel rooms, he explained.
"They said that all rooms within a 60-mile radius of a game are usually filled up, so they've blocked 7,500 hotel-room nights in our area," he said.
Fewer hotel bookings or shorter stays also mean less is spent at restaurants and probably less is spent on gasoline or other items that might be included in the football game's local economic effect.
Mr. Donnelly admitted he's disappointed that Toledo lodgings are still reporting vacancies for the weekend of the Feb. 5 game.
More outspoken is Michael Sapara, general manager of downtown's Radisson Hotel-Toledo.
"The NFL has had 200 rooms reserved here for three years and as of [yesterday], they've produced zero bookings," he said.
The deal was that the rooms would be sold on a four-night minimum at $129 per night, with the hotel paying a commission on each booking, and customers paying a $75 nonrefundable rate for each room when making the reservations, he said. A regular rate is $109 per night.
"We have sold 200 of our own rooms outside of the block, and I'm canceling their block of rooms today and we'll sell them on our own," Mr. Sapara said.
Jeff McFellin, director of sales and marketing for the Clarion Hotel-Westgate and its neighboring Comfort Inn, said he too is taking matters in his own hands and taking reservations for two or three nights, rather than adhering to the four-night minimum stay. The rooms are priced at $179 to $300 a night.
"They've been telling us all summer that every hotel within 60 miles of a Super Bowl will definitely pick up, but most of them have been in destination cities," Mr. McFellin said.
And that is the main problem, said Philippe Tanguy of the Houston-based On Point Sports, a sports travel firm.
Unlike last year's Super Bowl in Jacksonville and next year's in Miami, Super Bowl XL is in a northern city in the wintertime.
"People don't see it as an opportunity to make it into a vacation," he said. "A lot of people literally just want to come in for the game. It's hard to push the four-night minimum."
Visitors especially don't want to stay for more than two nights if they live as close as Pittsburgh, which is only about a four to five-hour drive from the Toledo-Detroit area, Mr. Tanguy said.
"I don't think anyone's at fault," he said. "People who go will have a great time, just like at any other Super Bowl, but it will just be a little chillier."
The economic impact of a Super Bowl runs into the millions of dollars. A study by Lawrence Technical Institute in Detroit estimated more than $300 million could flow through metropolitan Detroit because of the estimated 100,000 visitors expected for the week-long festivities.
Dan King, general manager of the Hyatt Regency in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, said his hotel is completely booked with visitors coming in next Thursday and staying the four-night minimum "to enjoy the experience."
Spokesman Ken Kettenbeil of the Detroit Super Bowl XL Host Committee said there is still room availability within a 15 to 30-mile radius of downtown Detroit.
Toledo-area hotels are free to release the rooms that had been blocked for the NFL, he said, but he defended the four-day minimum, a standard NFL procedure.
"I'm sure there are some people that are turned off by the cold-weather destination," Mr. Kettenbeil explained, "but Detroit's right on par with any of the other [host cities] and it's only fair that our community and region reap the economic benefits as well."
One Toledo hotel reporting an increase in business for Super Bowl weekend is the Hilton-Toledo, which has reservations for 80 of the 100 rooms blocked by the NFL, said Rich Nachazel, general manager.
"We're also doing all right through our own Hilton reservation line," he said. "There are a number of people who have come through indicating the Super Bowl was part of their plans."
Rooms in the 211-room facility are going for $169 a night, up from the $129 normally charged this time of year.
The Hilton is getting lucky because out-of-town visitors recognize the name of the chain and because Hiltons in other parts of the country are referring their best customers to the Toledo location, Mr. Nachazel said.
The Hilton general manager said he expects to be booked for the Friday and Saturday night of Super Bowl weekend, while Mr. Gooding, of the downtown Wyndham, said he expects a 65 to 70 percent occupancy rate.
Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at
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