Rising prices, Y2k fears, are impacting party plans

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August 30, 1999

Rising prices, Y2K fears are impacting party plans

Edward Martin

CHARLOTTE -- They fretted. It was December, but Raintree resident Sue Jones and friend Page Walker from Belmont were already planning how to celebrate the new millennium.

"The more we thought," says Jones, the mother of two, "the more we realized we wouldn't want to be anywhere else with anyone else but our families and friends."

Flash forward: This coming New Year's Eve, at the uptown Omni Hotel, the two families and 23 others will be sharing hors d'oeuvres and drinks. In an adjacent room, their children get their faces painted and have caricatures drawn. As fireworks burst at midnight, they rush to the windows or downstairs to join revelers on The Square. Then they retire to their rooms.

At a time when many hospitality experts had expected the millennium to be rocketing North Carolina's $11 billion hospitality and travel industry to new heights, Y2K is turning into something of a surprise party.

Hotels, such as the uptown Hilton Charlotte, which offers a package of entertainment, dining, room and New Year's brunch, are half-booked, but many hotels are taking a pass on public events and virtually all still have open rooms.

Air travel? "A lot don't want to fly because they're scared of what might happen," says Carol Palmer, AAA Carolinas in Charlotte travel branch manager, despite Federal Aviation Administration assurances that domestic flights are safe from date-related dangers. "We have no clients in the air between Dec. 31 and Jan. 2," says Brenda Bolton, manager of operations and sales at Trexler World Travel Service.

Cruises and tours? Berths are widely available largely because of high prices. For example, Royal Caribbean's seven-day millennium cruise out of San Juan, at $2,128 per person from Charlotte, is as much as 50% higher than a year ago.

Virtually all segments of the hospitality industry have at least doubled charges, expecting enormous demand from a party-hungry public.

But it's not too late for a bonanza. "We haven't had many requests for events yet," says Beth Ramsey, senior event manager at Mary Tribble Creations, "but we expect that to change closer to the end of summer."

But millennium magic has already produced some winners. Jim Austell, musician and president of J&J Productions Inc., a Charlotte booking agency, says virtually all groups are commanding strong rates. His group, Alibi, has booked a gig for a charge of $15,000, up from the usual $5,000.

At the Hilton Charlotte, Curtis Brown, general manager, went to work last August reviewing tapes before signing, more than a year ahead, the Fabulous Kays. They'll play in the main ballroom for revelers who pay $590 for a "gold" package that includes room, buffet, brunch and other amenities.

That's still shy of the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, where a three-night package that includes meals, a specially commissioned musical composition and music by The Drifters will go for $4,250 a couple.

But some segments of the industry could be setting themselves up for a backfire. Airlines are issuing only nonrefundable tickets for Dec. 16-Jan. 10 to try to cover losses if travelers cancel because of Y2K anxiety.

And tour vendors are demanding immediate deposits and full, nonrefundable payments six months in advance.

That amounts to a game of chicken with consumers, and some resorts are blinking first. "Several properties have already lowered their prices," says Bolton. "A lot of people look at this and say, `Wait a minute  we can stay close to home, have a quieter party, then go somewhere else after the millennium and get a lot more for the dollar.'"

Considering factors like those, Jones, husband Troy, and their friends and families say a celebration at the Omni  even if relatively quiet  is appealing.

"This will come once in a lifetime," says Sue Jones. "We wanted something to do with the kids, to make an evening they remember forever."

Martin is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.

Week of August 30, 1999 | Focus: Hospitality | Top of the page

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), September 01, 1999

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), September 02, 1999


A friend of mine is a travel agent. She told me last night that the very same room in Nasau is going for $600/night for Thanksgiving holiday (USA, end of November) is going for $2,000/night for New Year's holiday.

-- Lane Core Jr. (elcore@sgi.net), September 02, 1999.

Homer, thanks for some great stories today. Good sleuthing.

-- Lewis (aslanshow@yahoo.com), September 02, 1999.

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