Hotel rooms are unexpectedly opening up in Charlotte. Here’s how you can snag one.

Hotels in Charlotte are facing a loss of reservations — and guests checking out early — as powerful Hurricane Florence continues churning toward the state.

The development means a sudden availability of rooms when the city’s hotels are usually filling up for the busy fall convention season. It could mean a loss of revenue at a critical time for the industry, hotel officials say. But the extent is not known yet.

“We are seeing a lot of cancellations at this point in time, especially (Wednesday) and Thursday arrivals,” said George McGann, managing director of the Sheraton on South McDowell Street. Also, some guests already in the hotel are considering checking out earlier than planned to beat potential interstate closures and return to their homes, he said.

The Sheraton hotel at the intersection of McDowell and Stonewall streets in Charlotte. Observer file photo

With Florence’s landfall not expected until Thursday at the earliest, according to the National Hurricane Center’s latest prediction, hotel officials aren’t sure whether hurricane-related demand for rooms will offset the losses from cancellations.

Some relief workers have already booked rooms in Charlotte, hotel officials said.

But they are not seeing big demand from evacuees in coastal areas yet, the officials said. That could change later in the week as the storm’s path is better know and landfall nears, they added.

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Many of the cancellations involve business travelers, according to hotel officials.

McGann said companies are reluctant to send their workers to Charlotte as Florence’s track could bring severe weather here.

“They didn’t want to take a chance of something happening and putting their employees in danger if we’re in the path of the hurricane,” he said.

The National Hurricane Center said Tuesday that Florence was a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 130 miles per hour. The center said Florence was expected to be “extremely dangerous” through its landfall. The center’s forecast track as of 11 a.m. centered it around Wilmington.

Douglas Hustad, general manager of the Omni on East Trade Street, said the hotel is experiencing cancellations of group, business and leisure travelers.

He declined to disclose figures but he said the timing of the cancellations is poor, because the hotel tends to book many business and leisure travelers beginning after Labor Day.

“It’s a pretty busy time of year, so it certainly is going to have an impact one way or the other with the weather,” he said.

The Ramada Plaza near Charlotte Douglas International Airport has also seen cancellations, said David Sammet, director of operations. Occupancy at the hotel, on West Woodlawn Road, is expected to be 70 to 75 percent through Thursday — pretty much the normal level for that time of the week, he said.

But Sammet said groups involved in relief work have begun taking up space at the hotel, including the American Red Cross (about 50 rooms) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (about 20 rooms). Walmart volunteers have inquired about taking up roughly 50 rooms, he said.

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Hustad, at the Omni, said the hotel has seen demand from some leisure, group and business travelers seeking to avoid the coast.

At least one Charlotte business has said it’s providing free space for people heading west or inland to escape Florence’s path. Speedway Motorsports said it opened its Rock City Campground at noon Tuesday for evacuees.

The campground is near Charlotte Motor Speedway at 5555 Concord Parkway in Concord. Accommodations will be available as long as possible before potential landfall, officials said.

At least one Charlotte hotel has announced reduced rates for Florence evacuees.

Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel, which opened last year next to Romare Bearden Park, is offering discounts of up to 35 percent on rooms, according to the website for Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group. The special runs from Thursday through the end of this month.

McGann said the Sheraton is beginning to get inquiries from people who live on the coast. But many of those people are likely still watching to see whether Charlotte is the best place to flee to, he said.

For Hurricane Irma, which struck Florida last year, inquiries at the hotel did not pick up until 24 hours before landfall, McGann said. “I think everybody’s waiting to see where the path of the hurricane’s going to go,” he said.

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts
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