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How did my friend get such a good rate?

May/June/July 2014
by Dean Miller

Q? I was chatting with a friend who said she booked her family reunion into a beach resort in South Carolina in mid-August, and had gotten a really good rate for everyone. How did she do it? I would have thought a beach resort in August would be awfully expensive. Is there some trick we need to know to get a better deal on hotel rooms?
A! There’s no trick … it’s simply a matter of understanding when a particular destination is likely to be busy, and when they’re likely to be less busy, or decidedly “unbusy”.
Almost every destination has times when they’re going to be busy and the hotels are unlikely to offer discounts. Likewise, during the non-busy times, lots of bargains abound. These are referred to as “peak” and “off-peak” seasons, respectively. Periods which fall somewhere in between the two are referred to as “shoulder” seasons.
Some examples of “peak” seasons …
the fall months in New England

  • the winter months in Arizona
  • any ski resort in winter
  • February and March in Florida (baseball spring training season)
  • the summer months at a beach town/resort. “Spring break” periods tend to be very busy at many beach towns, as well.
  • college and university towns over homecoming weekends, graduation weekends, orientation weekends, and football weekends

Some examples of “off-peak” seasons …

  • the summer months in Arizona
  • September and October in Florida (hurricane season)
  • winter months in cities on the Great Lakes (Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Buffalo, etc.)

So … to find out when the most advantageous hotel rates are available, call the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) at the destination you’re thinking of visiting. They’ll be happy to tell you when “peak” and “off-peak” times of year are. Likewise, they’ll gladly tell you if a large convention group or event will be taking place in town over the dates you’re considering, so you can consider other dates. A city may be “sold out” one weekend during a large convention or sports tournament, and very eager for your business the following weekend, so it definitely pays to ask!

My sweet wife and I almost ended up sleeping in our car one weekend in August in Indianapolis, Indiana. There was a very large church convention in town, and attendees had reserved virtually every hotel room in central Indiana that weekend. Had we come to town the following weekend, we could have had our pick of rooms. Another time, on a weekend trip to North Carolina, we had to stay miles away from where we wanted to be, because there were no hotel rooms available at any price … we were there the weekend of a furniture buyers’ convention. (Who knew??)
In the case of your friend noted above, I can tell you that South Carolina, public schools go back into session around the third week of August, and hotel occupancies drop off. So … even though it’s still summer, there are very attractive room rates to be had if your family is able to meet there between the August 20th and Labor Day.
Here in Fairfax County, Virginia, we have great rates available for reunion groups most any weekend in July and August, including – believe it or not – over the 4th of July holiday! But not in 2015, when we will be hosting a large sporting event, the World Police and Fire Games, over the 4th. This is an excellent example of why you need to ask your CVB representative the question, “Are there any special events going on over (the dates we’re thinking of having our reunion) that we should know about?”
And here’s a valuable tip for all those who like going to Walt Disney World in Florida, but hate the thought of braving the summer heat and standing in mile-long lines to go on the rides and see the shows: Go during the first two weeks of December. The weather is lovely and the crowds are the smallest of the year. If you hate the heat and the crowds, this is the time of the year to go.

About the Hospitality Answerman
Dean Miller is national sales director for Visit Fairfax. He can be reached at 703-752-9509 or dmiller@fxva.com.

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