One year out from Swift’s Eras Tour takeover, Indy hotels and other businesses making preparations

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For three days next November, Taylor Swift and her fans are expected to dominate downtown Indianapolis as her concert tour comes to town. (Javier Vicencio/Eyepix/NurPhoto via AP)

Are you ready for it? A year out from the Swifties invasion, hoteliers, convention industry leaders and Swifties themselves are well into planning their welcome of Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour Nov. 1-3 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Most hotels won’t open bookings for another two weeks, 50 weeks before the first of the three shows. But downtown rooms are expected to sell out quickly, followed closely by hotels across the Indianapolis area.

Phil Ray

Many hotel management teams are speculating how high room rates will climb and how their properties will handle all the action, through minimum-stay requirements, increased staffing and even activities for concertgoers.

“Everybody has done their homework trying to anticipate what’s going to go on,” said Phil Ray, general manager of the JW Marriott. “But ultimately, it becomes a case where each hotel is going to look at its own situation and what strategy they want to employ. We get three straight nights of this, so we’ve got our strategy that we’re ready … to push out.”

The JW likely will have some of the highest room rates in the market for those dates, as it typically does for major sporting events and conventions. But Ray said where citywide rates ultimately land will depend on each hotel’s strategy.

“My guess is it’ll at least open on the high end, like a Super Bowl or Final Four,” he said. “Everybody will be watching and managing the demand. But we fully expect there’ll be so much demand that the downtown will sell out, so it’s just a matter of how aggressive properties want to be as they’re trying to sell rooms.”

The Hyatt House-Hyatt Place dual-branded hotel at 130 S. Pennsylvania St., across from Gainbridge Fieldhouse, is already booking the concert weekend, with room rates debuting around $700.

According to STR, a Nashville-based firm that tracks hotel occupancy and room rates, stops on The Eras Tour’s first North American leg this year—Indianapolis is on the second leg, following a globe-trotting run that starts this month—were a boon for hoteliers.

The first 28 stops generated an estimated impact of $208 million for hotels across 53 nights, including more than $98 million in room revenue beyond normal seasonal levels.

Likewise, many markets saw an increase in a key metric known as revenue per available room, or RevPAR. According to STR, Pittsburgh and Nashville saw that figure double from the weeks before and after the tour dates, while eight other cities had increases of at least 50%.

Making shifts

One challenge hotels will face, besides increased volume, is increased turnover. New crowds will flood the city each of the three days for their chance to see Swift.

“It’s an operational challenge—it really doesn’t matter whether you’re a big hotel or a small hotel,” Ray said. “I think everybody in the city wants to sell as many multiple-night stays as possible.”

He said the JW, which at full capacity employs about 650 people, can “comfortably” flip up to 700 of its 1,013 rooms per day, but going beyond that puts a significant strain on staff. He said minimum stays won’t be required, but they’ll be encouraged through a discount. Single-night stays for any of the three nights of the tour will cost $949 plus tax, but people who stay consecutive nights will get a $200-per-night discount.

Amy Vaughan

“We want to try and get at least 300 multiple-night stays or more so we can flip the house more effectively,” Ray said.

Amy Vaughan, a clinical assistant professor of tourism in IUPUI’s Department of Tourism, Event and Sport Management, said “every hotel and every restaurant in Indianapolis, especially near the stadium,” will increase staff and “have all hands on deck that weekend.”

Other hoteliers, like Jim Dora Jr. of Indianapolis-based General Hotels, are still contemplating how best to cope with the Swift crowds and ensure their staff can accommodate the constant churn.

Jim Dora Jr.

General Hotels operates multiple hotels throughout Indianapolis, including a Crowne Plaza downtown and one at Indianapolis International Airport.

“Really, it’s a one-night demand for most, because the average concertgoer is only going to come in for their night,” Dora said.

“So, then, do we flip the house and have all new people in? We’re anticipating that, unlike a Super Bowl where it might be a three-night minimum package, these concertgoers [aren’t] going to be willing to do that. … So we have to test that market a little bit to see what it looks like.”

Some Airbnb operators began listing properties for the tour dates within a few weeks of the concert announcement in August. As of Monday, more than 60 Airbnbs were available during the concert tour, with single-night rates ranging from $175 for a bedroom in Indianapolis to more than $2,500 for full houses in Carmel and Fishers.

Fans at a July concert in Santa Clara, Calif. (Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

Super Bowl-like atmosphere?

City tourism officials said they are working closely with hotel operators but are also making their own plans.

Chris Gahl

Chris Gahl, executive vice president of Visit Indy, said the tourism agency has not determined how it will market the city for the concert weekend.

Gahl said he expects the business community to get in on the action by offering specials or creating spaces themed to Taylor Swift. Likewise, Visit Indy is working closely with the Capital Improvement Board of Marion County and civic group Downtown Indy Inc. to determine plans for special spaces near the stadium.

This could include closing streets to promote the concert or to create activity areas for visitors, much like what was done on Georgia Street for the Super Bowl and on Monument Circle for the College Football Playoff National Championship.

“We have aspirations to make it more than a concert,” he said. “We want to create events and activities around the stadium and the city that won’t officially be part of the tour but will play into the excitement of welcoming [Swift] and her fans.”

Columbus, Indiana, resident Autumn Allen administers the largest group on Facebook for those planning to attend the Indianapolis concerts. The group of more than 10,000 users is designed to help answer questions about Lucas Oil Stadium, coordinate ticket sales and strategize about hotel rooms and places to go during the stay in Indianapolis.

Allen said that, like hoteliers and restaurants, concertgoers are already gearing up for their show date. Some members of the Facebook group are already asking about how the city will handle crowds and what activities might be offered, both for ticketholders and for tagalongs and residents who don’t have tickets but still want to get in on the fun.

“A lot of people are kind of already preparing themselves—they’re getting their outfits picked out, they’re getting [lodging] set,” she said, adding that some members have expressed frustration that many hotels aren’t booking rooms yet. “Indianapolis is a convention city, so I think it will be ready. I’m just hoping the businesses downtown are ready for all of this.”

Gahl said Visit Indy plans to coordinate with movie theaters, restaurants, businesses and hotels to piggyback off of Swift’s visit, generating “incremental economic activity above and beyond what happens inside the stadium.”

“Depending on how many ancillary events can be created and how many other points of interest can be put into place, we will most likely go out with paid advertising regionally to some of our key feeder markets to invite them to come experience the city even if they don’t have a concert ticket,” Gahl said.

He said Visit Indy hopes to work with local artists, musicians, businesses and restaurants to deploy a Taylor Swift theme across the city, playing into differentiations among the musician’s many albums.

Some options would be having Swift documentaries play at the Indiana State Museum Imax, cover bands at the Athenaeum and the use of various lighting styles throughout downtown. Gahl said tourism officials also envision having restaurants and bars create menu items tailored to Swift’s songs and albums.

“It’s about making it more than a concert,” he said.

IUPUI’s Vaughan predicted that the city will see Super Bowl-level crowds all weekend, as even many non-ticketholders will “just want to be downtown to experience everything.” As a result, she expects conversations about public safety, public transportation and parking to begin soon, if they haven’t already.

“We’ll have to close streets, and we’ll need to encourage people to take public transportation and make their plans in advance,” she said. “The city absolutely has to have a strong communications plan to help people navigate downtown with such heavy crowds, much like we did when the Super Bowl was here.”

‘It’s a dialogue’

Work also is underway to prepare for the concerts themselves, with Lucas Oil Stadium staff maintaining regular contact with Swift’s representatives. The stage setup is expected to be nearly identical to that of the tour’s first leg, but logistical challenges like VIP spaces and security considerations are being discussed.

Eric Neuburger

“The tour knows that we are experts on our building and our community, and we know that the tour’s folks are experts at this show, so it is a dialogue,” said Eric Neuburger, executive director of the stadium.

“We’ve made the entire building available to them, so ultimately we’ll let them direct the final decision on where things go and how we do things—within reason—but it is kind of a two-way street, where we each recognize that the other group has some specialized knowledge about what needs to happen for the show to go off the way we all want it to.”

In addition, stadium personnel are in close touch with leaders of Visit Indy about working with hotels and other businesses across the city “to make sure it’s a really cohesive community-wide celebration of Taylor Swift and her coming to Indianapolis.”

One thing over which the stadium has no control is ticketing—an oft-discussed (and widely derided) point for each of Swift’s shows, with tickets that sell for $100 to first-stop buyers seeing extraordinary markups on the secondary market.

As of Monday, the lowest price for resale tickets on StubHub to any of Swift’s three shows at Lucas Oil Stadium was just shy of $1,000, with the highest at more than $3,700.

Gahl said many meeting planners and event executives considering Indianapolis for their conventions or sporting events have approached Visit Indy about access to the concert through Visit Indy. The organization is expected to have a 31-seat suite each of the three nights.

Marketing the city to convention planners through big events is a common approach, including during the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, numerous Final Fours and the College Football Playoff National Championship.

“This provides us yet another opportunity to invite prospective meeting planners to come here and have a memorable experience and hopefully leave wanting to book Indy for their conference or meeting,” Gahl said.

The concerts will almost certainly have a nine-figure impact on Indianapolis, he said, but Visit Indy is still weighing whether to commission an official economic-impact study.

“We know it can be expensive for a study, as well as laborious, so we’re weighing how and if we attempt to quantify the economic benefit of hosting Taylor Swift for those three nights,” Gahl said. “We know it is going to be an incredibly hot ticket to get, and it’s incredibly complex to study. … And at this point, we’re trying to put our arms around how to potentially study it.”

Allen, who attended one of Swift’s Eras shows in Denver, said she hopes Indianapolis will leave a lasting impact on the singer, and her concerts on all the fans, particularly since Indianapolis is the world tour’s final U.S. stop.

Those going to the concert, she said, “want to have a good time. We all look out for each other, so I think Indy will do a really good job of making sure that everybody feels safe, just as they have with every other big event the city has hosted.”

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