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Sundance Institute Gets into the Lodging Business:
New Service to Link Festival Attendees to Hotel Vacancies

By Andrew Kirk, Park Record, Park City, UtahMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 15, 2009--Last January, Parkite Michael Kaplan got a call during the opening weekend of the Sundance Film Festival from someone desperately seeking lodging.

He was surprised to find out it was Paris Hilton. When one of the most famous celebrities in America struggles to find a place to stay during the festival, it's easy to imagine what regular people must go through.

The difficulty festival-goers had finding what they needed on a budget last January prompted Kenzie Coulson, manager of festival accommodations and transportation for the Sundance Institute, to look into creating a central reservation service.

Also, Coulson pointed out, doing so would allow the institute to profit five percent of profits from the sold-out lodging scenario it creates that forces even big celebrities have to scrounge up a place to stay.

"Six years ago, patrons needed a call center," she explained. "What we really needed (now) was to create a booking 'widget' people are accustomed to."

The result is "Destination Sundance" at www.sundance.org/destination , a web site created and maintained through a partnership with All Seasons Resort Lodging.

Users can enter the dates they'll be visiting, the type of accommodation they want and the location. The web site then takes the reservation, eliminating the stress of contacting a dozen different hotels to get the right room, price and place.

"Our goal is to provide a central repository for inventory for patrons: the press, filmmakers anyone

coming to Park City," she said.

The timing couldn't be better, Coulson pointed out. People were more careful with money during the last festival and they are predicted to be so again next January.

Nothing will change with the way the institute secures lodging for volunteers and staff for the festival, she said. That's how Coulson started. Before last September, she worked seasonally to contract lodging for those people. The financial strain attendees were experiencing last festival convinced the institute that something needed to be done to facilitate people shopping for the appropriate accommodations, she said.

"The best part is Sundance receives a small portion of commissions. That will help us be sustainable here," she said. "This is a way for us to create a small revenue stream to support our program and sustainability without a major impact on the community."

Comments like these have frustrated some members of the community, who complain that the institute leverages the festival's success to get more financial support from the city, county and state.

Paul Christensen, president of the Park City Area Lodging Association, said he remembers times when hotels and shops were empty in mid-January. That's why the association has been supportive of the endeavor.

"From my point of view, it appears to be fair. It looks like a nice, modern, up-to-date system," he said.

Commissions are 10 percent of proceeds, which the institute will split with All Seasons Resort Lodging. That contract was won through competitive proposals, Coulson explained.

To be fair, the company posts its own properties at the bottom of the list, said Jason Linder, director of sales and marketing for All Seasons.

The profitability of the contract will come through the commissions, he said, so the company is motivated to sign up as many lodges as possible and market the service well.

Linder said the goal of the site is to create a one-stop shop for the whole community. About 25 lodges are listed so far, and he hopes to triple that in the next few months.

Participants are also motivated to post a wide spectrum of rates to offer people choices, he said. The hotels can adjust the rates themselves to respond to declining inventory and increasing demand.

That's why Coulson hopes people will use the service to book early. The convenience of the site will make coming to the festival an easier decision for many, she said.

If Park City hotels and lodges fill up quickly, the site will also include Salt Lake City and Sundance Resort accommodations for spill-over, Linder said.

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To see more of the Park Record, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.parkrecord.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, Park Record, Park City, Utah

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