UK hoteliers are being warned to rethink their expectations for bumper bookings during the Rugby World Cup, which kicks off in just two months' time.
B2B travel wholesaler Jac Travel, which is involved in travel arrangements for up to 5,000 spectators coming to the UK from countries such as Australia and France to watch the matches, has revealed that rugby tournament organisers and international sports travel specialists have released rooms back on to the market.
The situation is being compared to the 2012 Olympics, when Locog released 20% of its reserved hotel bookings, with the result that room prices were slashed.
Jac Travel vice-president of groups Iain Limond said: "We have been working for a year to place 103 groups and we have struggled to get space. Now, in the past few weeks, we see no difficulty in getting hotel rooms. We are getting four-star space at three-star prices. They are coming off rack rate because there is a flood, with a lot of rooms now being released by organisers."
Earlier, Limond told The Caterer's sister publication Travel Weekly: "This is a common syndrome we see with nearly all big one-off events."
He added: "Quite understandably, hotels are lured into a mistaken belief that there will be strong demand and, as a consequence, they hold out for higher room rates and more onerous booking conditions.
"The problem is that all the travel and event organisers typically book more rooms than they need, and when they cancel at relatively short notice, the hotels discover that their regular customers have made alternative arrangements with the result that they have to resort to discounting to fill their space."
Erick Kervaon, general manager at the 15-bedroom Bingham in Richmond near the Twickenham Stadium, said he has purposely waited to release bedrooms for the tournament with a view to achieving full rack rate.
"People understand the way these big events work and will wait for a better deal. Competitor hotels may panic and reduce their rack rate, but when they are full we will release our rooms at the full rate. We have already had two big enquiries and won't start worrying until 8 September."
The international tournament starts at Twickenham on 18 September with matches scheduled across England and Wales in cities including Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds and Cardiff until the final on 31 October.
Hoteliers have played down any issues, however. Suzanne Cannon, marketing director at Jurys Inn, pointed out that as the games are mostly scheduled to take place over a weekend, the hotels tend to be at full capacity in any case.
This was borne out by Helen Hipkiss, marketing manager at the Lowry in Manchester, who said the hotel already had 80% occupancy during the city's 10 October match, though the Friday night still had to "pick up".
"The first couple of weeks in October are going to be very, very busy," said Hipkiss. "We are forecasting high occupancy as Manchester is hosting the Conservative Party Annual Conference and key concert dates include the band One Direction. For the weekend of the rugby we will expect to sell out."
Manchester Hoteliers' Association chair Paul Bayliss confirmed that there was a strong level of demand in the city partly, but not exclusively, because of the rugby tournaments.
Predictably, hotels close to high-profile grounds, such as London Marriott hotel Twickenham are expecting full occupancy. The hotel is located in the stadium with a number of pitch-view suites.
At Premier Inn, trading manager Lewis Cunningham said: "Our hotels near areas where Rugby World Cup matches will be played are performing in line with expectation and we anticipate that our customers will be taking advantage of competitive rates, where we still have available rooms."
This was echoed by a Hilton Worldwide spokesperson, who said that demand in some key game cities is already high: "Bookings during the world cup are in line with our expectations," he said.
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