Lexington-area hotels take advantage of high-traffic weekends

By Bryn McCarthy

The price of a hotel room in Lexington can triple at times of high demand, such as parents’ weekend at Virginia Military Institute two weeks ago or at Washington and Lee University this weekend.

One parent staying at the Robert E. Lee Hotel this weekend is paying about $600 a night. Operations Manager of the Robert E. Lee Maura Vance says that on average a usual night at the Robert E. Lee costs closer to $200.

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The iconic letters spelling Robert E Lee welcome customers to this hotel. Photo by Bryn McCarthy.

“We don’t mind paying additional fees because there is limited space and it’s a big weekend, so we’re happy to support the local economy,” said the customer, who asked not to be identified. “But it is way over the top in terms of pricing.”

Leigh Leak, a W&L parent looking to stay at the Robert E. Lee for her daughter’s graduation weekend in May this year, was shocked by similar price spikes when trying to book a room for graduation.

At first, she was happy to learn she could get a room. Then, about 20 minutes later, she got an email confirmation saying it would cost $799 a night. In total, the cost for Leak’s family to stay at the Robert E. Lee from May 22 through May 24 would have totaled $2,734.77.

The Leaks decided to stay elsewhere.

The Robert E. Lee Hotel is not the only one raising prices over big event weekends.

“The Georges has a three-night minimum for this [parents’] weekend, and you have to book really far ahead,” said Tracy Tucker, who is staying at the inn. “Since we had a room last year, we booked ahead of time because there was such a high demand and higher rates.”

Hotels farther outside of town such as the Sleep Inn & Suites and Hampton Inn elevate prices for big weekends too.

The usual price for the Sleep Inn & Suites is between $70 to $100 a night, but on parents’ weekend it’s about $200.

The Hampton Inn’s usual rate is around $150, but on big event weekends the front desk clerk said people will pay closer to $250 a night. It is sold out for this weekend.

While parents may feel that these elevated prices are unfair, it’s a simple case of supply and demand.

The only time local law enforcement or government intervene with room prices is if hotels seem to be price gouging during an emergency. The Texas attorney general sued one hotel for alleged price gouging after Hurricane Harvey.

Lexington City Manager Noah Simon confirmed that the city doesn’t regulate hotel pricing. The increased traffic and pricing generate more revenue for both the city and country from the 7 percent lodging tax.

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Upon entering the Robert E. Lee, customers encounter this restored 1920s lobby. Photo by Bryn McCarthy.

While parents and other Lexington visitors will have to continue putting up with these higher rates, some still hope that they will become a bit more reasonable.

“I would love to see an increase in their usual rate,” said one parent and customer of the Robert E. Lee. “Something that still makes the hotel a nice profit, but is also at least considerate to the customer.”