With less than a month to go before the running of the Kentucky Derby, the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates that roughly 30 percent of the area's 17,000 rooms are still available, compared to less than 10 percent at the same time in recent years.
"Demand obviously is soft due to tough economic times," Jim Wood, the bureau's president, told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "There's not going to be a mad rush."
Wood predicted the vacancy rate ultimately could be as high as 20 percent.
But that doesn't mean rooms will be cheap, the newspaper reported. Larger downtown hotels such as the Seelbach Hilton, Brown Hotel and Marriott Louisville Downtown still are charging more than $1,000 a night from April 30 to May 2.
At the Hyatt Regency, where this year's Derby rate is $1,130 per night before taxes, guests can reserve just two nights instead of the traditional three-night minimum. Also at the Hyatt, guests have the chance to win two tickets to the famed Annual Barnstable-Brown Gala, the largest black-tie event held during Kentucky Derby Week. Guests who book the "Run for the Roses" package, which includes VIP downtown Louisville accommodations from April 30 to May 3 will be automatically entered into the drawing. The sweepstakes began April 1 and concludes April 18.
Now in its 20th year, the annual Barnstable Brown Gala is one of the most eagerly anticipated Derby parties. Tickets are valued at over $1,000 each. Hosted by the original Doublemint Gum Twins, Priscilla Barnstable and Patricia Barnstable-Brown, the event raises funds and awareness for diabetes research at University of Louisville and University of Kentucky. The guest list is always a who's who of Hollywood celebrities, and has previously included names such as Virgin music exec Sir Richard Branson, actress Rebecca Romijn and country star Travis Tritt. The event is also known for its musical performances, often from celebrity guests who jump onstage to dazzle the crowd.
To lure racing fans in a tight economy, some other upscale hotels are offering big incentives. At the Galt House Hotel & Suites, guests paying as much as $4,500 for three nights in a suite that sleeps four will get a $500 Visa gift card. Lisa Haller, the Galt House's executive director of sales and marketing, told the Courier-Journal that she had "a couple hundred" rooms available as of last week, out of a total of 1,290.
It is too soon say whether the recession will diminish The Brown hotel's business—it charges $4,000 plus tax for a three-night minimum stay—said Angie Carraro, the hotel's revenue manager.
If The Brown is not "turning business away" by the end of next week, Carraro added, she will know this Derby is a different animal than in years past. The downtown hotel has not been making special offers to attract guests, she said.
The 135th running of the Kentucky Derby will take place at Churchill Downs Racetrack on May 2.