Indianapolis hotels in high demand heading into race weekend

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The JW Marriott Indianapolis

Indianapolis hoteliers are getting a significant boost again this year from the Indianapolis 500, with most of the hotel rooms within 10 miles of the event already spoken for throughout the weekend.

This year’s race is likely to have its biggest crowd since the 100th running in 2016, with more than 300,000 spectators expected. That’s sure to mean significant revenue for the area’s hotels, including some of the most prominent downtown properties, such as the JW Marriott and the Crowne Plaza.

Phil Ray, general manager of the JW Marriott Indianapolis and former GM of the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown—both managed by White Lodging—said both hotels are completely booked this weekend. The 1,013-room JW Marriott is essentially an unofficial host hotel, with numerous teams, sponsors and other race partners occupying 90% of the rooms. The other 10% of bookings are individuals and smaller groups in the city to watch the race.

Ray, who has worked in downtown hotels for 19 years, said Indianapolis 500 weekend brings a boost to the bottom line and bolsters the energy of the city’s hospitality industry—often carrying workers and property managers through the rest of the year.

“It’s by far the best weekend of the year,” he said. “From a revenue standpoint, from an experience standpoint, it’s by far the most important weekend of the year. Just considering the exposure it brings to our city … it keeps Indy out front and relevant. There’s nothing like Indianapolis on this weekend.”

Jim Dora Jr., president of General Hotels Corp., said most of the rooms at the group’s 12 central and west-central Indiana hotels rooms will be spoken for through the weekend, with the biggest demand for Saturday night. His properties include the Crowne Plaza hotels downtown and at Indianapolis International Airport (which itself is seeing about a 19% uptick in air travel for Memorial Day weekend compared with last year).

Dora said he thinks the increased competition to get into the Indy 500 field (bumping returned this year for qualifying) and the return to normalcy following the pandemic have played a big role in demand for this year’s race.

“It has been a pretty exciting lead up to the Indianapolis 500 this year,” Dora said. “We had some tough years there where we didn’t have the teams, we didn’t have the excitement quite as much as we have now. The facility is in in fantastic condition for fans who are going out to the track … it’s a pretty exciting time for open-wheel racing.”

Based on IBJ research, hundreds of hotel rooms still remain available this weekend, including at some prominent downtown properties. But the cost of those rooms for a three-night stay is significantly higher than what’s typically associated with those hotels.

Le Meridien, for example has a handful of non-refundable rooms starting at $509 per night, including fees. Typical costs per night there are $300 or lower. The Bottleworks Hotel starts at $599 per night, or $2,250 for three nights, making it among the priciest hotels in the area for the weekend, followed by the Fishers Residence Inn, which is about $2,100 total for three nights.

There are also dozens of short-term rentals available for the weekend, many of which also have high price tags. A two-bedroom home in Speedway, just blocks from IMS, runs $2,740 before taxes. Another two-bedroom west-side home will cost guests about $3,425 for the full weekend.

Chris Gahl, vice president of tourism agency Visit Indy, said last year, downtown hotels were a “virtual sellout”—about 97% occupied throughout the weekend—and he expects the same to be true for this year’s race.

He said final performance figures—including occupancy, the daily rate averages charged by hotels, and the revenue generated by each room—are expected to be available for the Indianapolis market by the first full week of June. But, Gahl added, he believes Indianapolis is on track to match or surpass last year

“While we’ve see an increase in rooms being snapped up for this coming holiday weekend, we’ve also seen a slight increase in what hotels are able to charge for these last-minute bookings,” he said. “And with weather looking near perfect for the race … the rooms that are left will be able to be sold for a higher amount.”

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