Room rates are going up in a big way at some area hotels during the Democratic National Convention.
The markups - quadruple or more in some cases - don't affect the convention's official attendees. DNC organizers already reserved rooms and locked in rates for 6,000-plus delegates, VIPs and others during the Sept. 3-6 convention.
The higher rates affect everyone else in the hunt for rooms - and that could be plenty of people. The convention is expected to draw 35,000 visitors overall.
Among the most expensive spaces: Holiday Inn Express Suites East Matthews, charging $849.15 to $1,014 per night during the stretch of Aug. 31 to Sept. 7 and Aug. 24 to Aug. 31, according to the hotel's reservations website. That compares to $126.65 to $184 the week earlier, Aug. 17 to Aug. 24.
At the Quality Inn at Carowinds Fort Mill, rates start at $699 per night during the week before and the week of the convention, compared to $63.86 in the middle of August.
Both properties are part of Matthews-based OHM Hotel Management Inc. Vinay Patel, one of the OHM directors, referred questions about how those rates were set to Paige Welch, director of sales and marketing. Welch couldn't be reached.
But Patel said attaching high prices for open rooms is done for marketing purposes - it attracts attention and allows properties to come up at the top of Internet searches. He said he doesn't expect anyone to book rooms at those prices.
"Positioning is so important in online marketing," Patel said, noting that a high percentage of hotel-room seekers start their search on the Internet. "Today, people will Google something. ... If I'm not visible at all, I lose my guests. ... If you don't have inventory (listed) for an extended period of time, then your ranking decreases."
"In my 20 years of business, I don't think anybody's going to pay that," he said.
The Holiday Inn Express Suites is about 12 miles south of uptown, off Independence Boulevard next to a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Amenities listed on its website include a business center, fitness center, meeting facilities, swimming pool and courtesy breakfast.
By comparison, rates at The Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel in uptown Charlotte are $409-$999 for a January weekday night, and $269-$1,900 for a weekend night. During Charlotte Motor Speedway's races in May, hotel rates in Concord top out at $300 to $400 a night, according to travel websites.
In Denver, host city for the 2008 Democratic National Convention, rates for available hotel rooms ran higher than normal, but not by much, according to Christine O'Donnell, president of the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association.
The average daily rate for Denver rooms in August 2008, the month of the convention, rose to $143.53 compared to $113.44 the year before. Downtown, room rates averaged $180.42.
O'Donnell said a big issue at that time was DNC organizers releasing a number of previously contracted rooms close to convention time. So people who booked rooms farther away from the city, for example in Boulder, a 30-minute drive from Denver, canceled their rooms and booked downtown instead.
Downtown loft owners also were renting their space for a thousand dollars a night, O'Donnell said. In Charlotte, condo and home owners in and near uptown also are listing their spaces for rent during the DNC. One condo on Craigslist is priced at $8,500 for DNC week.
People say it's hard to predict what visitors will pay close to convention time, or what the interest will be, given that President Barack Obama is an incumbent.
"Will the fever be the high pitch it was in Denver, when Barack Obama took the nomination?" O'Donnell said.
In Charlotte, some prices may be eye-popping, but they don't trigger North Carolina's price-gouging law, said Tom Bartholomy, president of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont, based in Charlotte.
That statute prohibits "excessive pricing during states of disaster, states of emergency, or abnormal market disruptions."
Bartholomy said it's not unusual to see higher hotel prices during major events, such as Speed Week and ACC championships.
Some of OHM's properties have rooms under contract with the DNC, Patel said. If any are released, and if his and other hotels have a high percentage of available rooms as the convention gets closer, expect everyone to drop rates, he said.
"Everyone will be within five dollars of each other."