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Election 2016

The Mad Rush For Inauguration Hotel Rooms Never Really Happened

Hillary Clinton's supporters may have held off longer than expected on making plans for the inauguration of the first female president.

The Mad Rush For Inauguration Hotel Rooms Never Really Happened

[Photo: Unsplash user Joseph Gonzalez]

Until Donald Trump won the election, many Democrats already looked forward to watching the first woman president in history get inaugurated on a brisk January day in the U.S. capital.

So what happened to all those Washington, D.C., hotel reservations made by Hillary Clinton's supporters? Many in D.C. expected to see a mad scramble starting on November 9 by Democrats cancelling hotels and Trump's supporters trying to book them.

It hasn't really played out that way.

People in the D.C. hospitality industry see two main types of inauguration hotel buyers. One group is made up of the people who decide they want to go to the inauguration regardless of who wins and make their room reservations as much as a year in advance. They end up getting the best deals and the best rooms. The other (smaller) group consists of more partisan types who only want to go to the inauguration if their candidate wins. They typically wait until after the election to buy rooms.

This year, it appears that while Hillary Clinton's supporters expected a win, they apparently had enough doubt in their minds to keep them from making hotel reservations en masse, long before election day. That's because I called a number of D.C. hotels asking about rooms for the night of January 19 (the inauguration is January 20), and found that only a couple reservations agents reported lots of cancellations shortly after the election results came in.

One reason may be that many D.C. hotels require hotel nights around the inauguration to be paid for in advance. Rooms are in such high demand for the inauguration, the hotels have nothing to lose—and everything to gain—by requiring prepayment. So people who booked rooms had to be sure they wanted to go, or be prepared to lose a considerable chunk of money.

The Watergate Hotel, for instance, requires advanced payment and offers only three-night packages around January 20. The Watergate, by the way, still has some vacancies: A "Superior King" room costs $995 per night. The "Diplomat Suite" (with a balcony) costs $10,000 per night.

Trump Hotel Washington, D.C.'s Director of Sales and Marketing Patricia Tang said the hotel also requires prepayment and, not surprisingly, had no cancellations after the election. The least expensive rooms sold for $1,250 per night with a five-night minimum. The "Presidential Suite" rented for $12,000 per night.

The Willard Intercontinental is located right on Pennsylvania Avenue, opposite the White House. The hotel's spokesman, Anthony Hesselius, told me the rooms and suites facing the street sold quickly because "they provide indoor, warm access to view the parade."

"With this cycle we did not see a large number of bookings before the election, so cancellations weren’t a problem," Hesselius said. "That’s fairly standard with a highly competitive election." He added that many of the hotel’s customers who booked rooms for this inauguration have attended previous ones for the Bushes or even Reagan, or are just families who want their children to see the event.

The inauguration of Barack Obama in 2008 was a huge event. Estimates said up to 2 million people crowded the streets of the capital that day, with 1 million on the Mall alone. The night before the event, occupancy reached 98.5% for hotels in the D.C. central business district, according to estimates sent to Fast Company by data benchmarking and analytics firm STR. That was 85.6% higher than the same day the previous year. The average price of a hotel room was $608.

Those rooms sold out quickly as excitement grew about seeing the first black president in U.S. history inaugurated. Most people I spoke with believe D.C. hotels will eventually sell out, or come very close to it, but they won’t sell out as quickly as rooms in 2008 did.

They may, however, fetch more money.

I didn’t have much trouble finding vacancies when I called around almost two weeks after the election, but most were expensive. I found available rooms for January 19 at the Four Seasons ($1,500). Embassy Suites by Hilton had "a few rooms left" going for $900 per night. The Holiday Inn on C Street had "quite a few rooms left" going for $700.

Hilton had rooms at various properties in the city as well as immediately outside it. Hilton’s District Hotel had rooms for between $759 and $1,500 per night with a three-night stay and prepayment. Its Hampton Inn had rooms for $529 per night. Hilton’s Crystal City hotel near Reagan National Airport had rooms for $600 per night with a three-day stay.

Kimpton owns 10 hotels in D.C. and still has rooms available in some of them as of Monday. A room on January 19 at Kimpton’s Rouge was selling for $689, a room in the Madera ran $989, and the Kimpton George Hotel had rooms for $6,200 per night. The Kimpton Donovan and the Kimpton Hotel Palomar also had rooms for around $1,000.

Perhaps data analysts should have spoken to hotel managers when they were anxiously trying to forecast the election results in the weeks before November 8.

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