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Good luck finding a hotel room in Charlotte for when Irma hits

Traffic slows at the intersection of Interstate 26 and 77 Friday in Columbia Friday as people from Florida evacuate in preparation for Hurricane Irma's landfall. Charlotte hotels are filling fast with evacuees from affected areas like Miami.
Traffic slows at the intersection of Interstate 26 and 77 Friday in Columbia Friday as people from Florida evacuate in preparation for Hurricane Irma's landfall. Charlotte hotels are filling fast with evacuees from affected areas like Miami. tglantz@thestate.com

Charlotte hotels are filling up fast for early next week, when Hurricane Irma is expected to bring 2 to 4 inches of rain, wind and possibly even tornadoes to the Carolinas.

Irma was downgraded to a Category 4 hurricane, potentially lessening the impact on Charlotte. But the storm is still sending evacuees from affected areas like Florida into area hotels. Although several hotels still had availability over the weekend, every uptown hotel reached by the Observer on Friday morning was completely booked on Monday and Tuesday.

That’s the case at the Ritz-Carlton, where many Florida families have taken refuge. The hotel will transform its ballroom into a playroom for kids’ activities Friday afternoon, said Seamus Gallagher, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.

Rooms at the hotel are going for $499 a night, lowered from the normal mid-week price of $629.

“Early next week is a little tricky. We were sold out with business travelers but we’re seeing a lot of business travelers cancel and as soon as they cancel, displaced people are booking,” Gallagher said.

Also in uptown, Hilton Garden, Courtyard by Marriott, Holiday Inn, Aloft and Omni hotels are also completely booked for Monday and Tuesday.

Farther away from uptown, hotels seem to have a bit more availability. That’s the case at the Hilton Garden Inn Charlotte Airport, which has had four business groups cancel events at the hotel. The hotel lowered its prices for Monday and Tuesday to $199 a night, down from the typical $249-$269 range.

The North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association is encouraging member hotels to loosen certain regulations because of Irma. It’s asking, for instance, that hotels consider waiving cancellation fees and relaxing pet policies to accommodate evacuees (hotels are not required to allow pets during a hurricane or other natural disaster.)

The influx of evacuees could still grow. In a press conference Friday afternoon, Gov. Roy Cooper said the state is suspending construction work on highways as traffic has picked up from evacuations.

The demand spike could trigger price gouging, of which Attorney General Josh Stein is warning people to be wary. His office wants to know about any suspicious price spikes, whether it’s by hotels, gas stations or other businesses.

“My top priority is protecting North Carolinians – including their wallets. Taking advantage of people during a weather crisis would be unacceptable, and I will hold any offenders accountable,” Stein said in a statement.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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