Once-in-a-lifetime events have the power to shift travel habits, if only for a short bit of time.
Stephen Prime paid a steep price for the hour it took to win his wife’s approval to go to Chicago for three Grateful Dead shows billed as the band’s final concerts.
By the time the Pasadena, California, television-show editor got back to his computer, the cost for his four-night hotel stay — $1,200 before spousal negotiations began — had gone up by about $240, and all rooms that allowed him to use his customer-loyalty points had been booked.
“This kind of demand just felt unreal,” said Prime, 53, who’s worked on “Friends” and “Mike & Molly” and has been to more than 200 Dead shows since his first, in 1980.
Tickets sold out quickly for the three “Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead” shows at Chicago’s Soldier Field, on July 3, 4 and 5. A similar frenzy is under way at hotels in the third-biggest U.S. city, with concertgoers paying a premium as rooms fill up.
Chicago hotels had a record 11-fold increase in reservations the day the shows were announced, according to Orbitz Worldwide Inc. The surge in demand — the capacity at Soldier Field is 71,000 for the concerts — boosted the average room rate to $282 as of this week, up 86 percent from a year earlier, according to the online travel company. That’s the biggest increase on record for a July 4 weekend.
Premiums at some hotels are even steeper. A room at the downtown Holiday Inn Express is selling for $509 a night, up from $128 last year, according to Orbitz. At the Warwick Allerton Hotel Chicago on Michigan Avenue, room rates more than tripled to $484 a night.
“It’s hands down the biggest spikes I’ve ever seen,” said Reid Webster, regional sales director at Chicago-based Orbitz. “At this point, we anticipate a record in revenue and occupancy for the city.”
The Dead has since announced two additional shows, on June 27 and 28 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, and a similar onslaught is now hitting hotel rooms in the Silicon Valley area with availabilities “extremely tight,” Webster said. It will be the first time Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir will perform together as the Grateful Dead in 20 years.
Demand isn’t restricted to hotel companies. For Airbnb Inc., the San Francisco-based site for people to list accommodations, Chicago bookings for the July 4 weekend are up 95 percent from a year earlier as of this week, said Cristina Calzadilla, a company spokeswoman.
“This concert is going down as one of the top three demand drivers at Airbnb,” said Andrea La Mesa, Airbnb’s regional director for North America. South by Southwest, the annual film and music festival, and the Super Bowl have been the company’s other two top events, he said.
Holly Gitlin, 41, and her partner started using Airbnb in 2012 to rent out a room in their Chicago apartment. After buying another unit in the building in 2013, the couple have also been offering that apartment to travelers. Both were spoken for faster than ever.
“We’ve never been booked this quickly,” said Gitlin, an operations manager at a human-resources firm. “This year, our rooms for the 4th of July weekend were taken by January.”
Gitlin said she didn’t know if her renters are coming to Chicago for the Dead shows.
The large number of Dead tickets being offered for resale is making some hotel operators worried, said Marc Gordon, president of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association. While the Chicago concerts are sold out, resale website TicketNetwork Inc. listed more than 1,100 tickets available for each show as of this week, and StubHub Inc. had about 1,900 tickets offered for each night.
“Chicago hotels are very concerned about cancellations and that third parties made many of the reservations with the idea of reselling them and maybe not actually ending up using them,” Gordon said.
The additional concerts planned for California “might also soften some of the demand that would have ended up here,” said Kevin Mallory, the Chicago-based global head of CBRE Group Inc.’s lodging business.
Prime, the television editor, struck out when he tried to buy tickets for the Chicago shows when they first went on sale. In desperation, he jumped on a $5,000 package from an EBay seller that includes three hotel nights and VIP concert tickets.
Like many of his fellow Deadheads, as fans of the band are known, Prime has traveled across the U.S. to see the group perform. But he wasn’t willing to go to any length to see the Dead one last time, with a decent hotel room being one condition for the trip.
“I’ve never left the U.S. to see them, I never quit my job and I always took a shower,” Prime said. “I am keeping it that way.”
This article was written by Nadja Brandt and Brian Louis from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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Photo credit: Millennium Park in Chicago, IL. Rick Harris / Flickr