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Jeff Kolpack, Published March 18 2012

Fargo Marathon’s ‘best value’ rating may take a hit with rising motel costs

FARGO - Mark Knutson is a race director, not an economist, but he knows that when demand is high and supply is low, prices will probably go up.

And as the head of the Fargo Marathon, that has him nervous.

Knutson said he has received complaints, mostly from out-of-state runners, of higher-than-anticipated hotel prices for the marathon weekend of May 19. It’s not what was inferred in 2010 in Runner’s World magazine when Fargo was named the “Best Value Marathon” in the country.

The Fargo Marathon also was given that distinction in 2009 by the magazine. It was also a year when Knutson was quoted in a Forum story that he hadn’t heard of any local hotels raising prices for the marathon weekend. That isn’t the case anymore.

A Forum sampling of 15 local hotels found the average price of a hotel room for the marathon weekend was $158.21 per night. The average price increase for 10 of those hotels that offered a comparison to a regular rate was $51 – albeit a normal rate is a fluctuating number for most hotels.

But the head of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau and a couple of local hotel general managers say it’s normal operating procedure in every city

in the country.

“Like anybody else, it’s a supply and demand business,” said Sedi Halvorson, the general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn in Fargo. “People are free to shop those rates as best they can. Like any other time, we’re hoping we’re making the right decision. It will bear out as we go.”

The Hilten Garden Inn had a block of rooms blocked off for the marathon at $129. The marathon weekend is sold out, but the current rate is $199 per night.

Requirements like a minimum length of stay are also popping up. For instance, the Staybridge Suites and Super 8 in Fargo require a three-night minimum for the weekend while the Fairfield and Comfort Suites have two-day minimums.

On the flipside, the Ramada Plaza Suites in Fargo kept its marathon weekend rates the same as any other weekend.

“We just don’t like to take advantage of the situation because it does a lot for our community,” said Ramada general manager Carol Johnson of the marathon. “We want them to leave feeling good and not have the feeling that we’re trying to rip them off. We want them to come back.”

That’s what Knutson likes to hear. He said his fear is Fargo-Moorhead hotels will go down the road of Duluth, Minn., which substantially hikes its prices the weekend of Grandmas Marathon.

With more half marathons and marathons popping up in the region, Knutson said higher expenses on the Fargo Marathon weekend could leave Twin Cities runners participating in races closer to home.

“We get a huge draw from Minneapolis,” Knutson said.

CVB president and chief executive Cole Carley said his office has heard very few complaints with hotel prices. He said part of the increases relates to software that tracks vacancy. Generally, the faster rooms are booked, the faster the rates increase.

Radisson general manager Sandy Adams says her hotel uses a combination of software and brain power to dictate rates.

“It’s normal operating procedure in every city everywhere for busy weekends when events are going on,” she said. “It’s supply and demand.”

Asked if higher rates could influence Fargo’s value standing with Runner’s World, Carley didn’t think so pointing to the lower food and beverage costs.

“It’s still a good value because it’s all relative,” he said. “Runner’s World compares against the Boston Marathon and Twin Cities Marathon, where there is a lot more money involved.”

There is a cheaper alternative thanks to North Dakota State, Knutson said. Although it doesn’t offer the services of a hotel, the dormitories on campus are going for $110 for one or two nights. Plus, participants can walk to the starting line.

“Unless you have a family of six or are making a big vacation, that’s a pretty decent place to stay,” Knutson said. “They’re doing a nice job of helping us out.”


Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia


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