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Most South Florida Hotels Still Have Rooms to Sell for Super Bowl Weekend;
A Strong New Orleans Showing, Not so for the Colts

By Douglas Hanks, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

January 27, 2010--For South Florida's 10th Super Bowl, the dominant colors will almost certainly be black and gold.

Fans of the New Orleans Saints appear to be dominating the market for Super Bowl hotel rooms and tickets this week, easily outpacing anemic demand from Indiana. The early reports confirm doubts that Indianapolis would show much interest in traveling to the Colts' second South Florida Super Bowl in 36 months.

"The callers we're getting all have Cajun accents," said Robert Finvarb, who owns four Marriott hotels in Broward and Miami-Dade. "Indianapolis is a dog for Super Bowl."

Most South Florida hotels still have rooms to sell for Super Bowl weekend, with hoteliers and travel brokers saying fans aren't booking as quickly as in past years.

They mostly blame the teams: Indianapolis was in South Florida for the 2007 Super Bowl and didn't attract a huge number of fans then, while New Orleans is too small a city to generate waves of hotel bookings at sky-high prices.

"Honestly, this has been very disappointing," said Anbritt Stengele, president of the company that owns sportstraveler.net, which sells Super Bowl packages starting at $3,500 per person. "We've slashed a lot of our [hotel] prices."

The site offers game tickets for about $1,500. Hotel rooms that on Monday sold for $399 a night now can be had for $289 a night, Stengele said.

For sure, Super Bowl promises to pack rooms throughout South Florida, with some new hotels in Fort Lauderdale expecting their best weekend in history. For the first time, the National Football League placed its headquarters and media center in Fort Lauderdale, a decision that generated thousands of hotel-room bookings.

The W Fort Lauderdale, which opened last summer, has rented 90 percent of its 466 rooms available for Super Bowl. Of the 30 left, the nightly rate starts at $699.

"We're looking very, very good," said W General Manager Scott Brooks.

His nearby competitor, the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale, says it only has suites left for Super Bowl weekend. The cheapest costs $2,500 a night, sales director Michael Chiusano said.

"The demand has been great," he said.

Both the W and the Ritz-Carlton sold almost all of their rooms before Sunday's play-off games decided which teams would actually compete in the Super Bowl. Travel executives mostly said they were rooting against a Colts-Saints match-up, since the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings have much larger fan bases.

1ST SUPER BOWL

But in interviews this week, the Saints emerged as the clear favorite in the tourism industry and the Colts the clear disappointment. New Orleans fans are hungry to see their team's first Super Bowl appearance ever, while hotels remember the Colts bringing a modest following in 2007 when they beat the Chicago Bears in Miami Gardens in 2007.

"Last time we had the Super Bowl, I had one Indianapolis fan for every 10 Chicago fans," said Ralph Abravaya, owner of the Cavalier Hotel in South Beach. "I had a heckuva crowd at the restaurant [for the 2007 Super Bowl] and only one table had Indianapolis fans."

That pattern appears to be repeating itself. Stubhub.com, a leading website for reselling Super Bowl tickets, said Tuesday that 24 percent of its tickets sales were going to customers from Louisiana. Second place: Florida at 12 percent. Indiana came in fifth -- behind Texas and New York -- at 7 percent.

Stengele, of sportstraveler.net, said Tuesday she was amazed to find a good price on a Southwest flight from Indianapolis to Fort Lauderdale for Super Bowl weekend. The low-cost carrier quickly sold out on its New Orleans-to-Fort Lauderdale routes, she said.

With corporate entertainers, media and team officials reliable Super Bowl travelers each year, fans become the wild card for the host city's tourism industry. Hotels reported a wave of inquiries this week as would-be travelers hunted for the best deal for a weekend known for sky-high prices. The Delano, one of South Beach's priciest hotels, is offering a penthouse on Super Bowl weekend for $12,000 a night.

HEFTY PROFITS

A Miami Herald survey of 30 hotels found 11 were sold out for the weekend of the Feb. 7 game. Most were trying for hefty Super Bowl profits. The Eden Roc in Miami Beach wanted $879 on Super Bowl weekend, compared to $409 two weekends later. The Beachcomber advertised a $421 Super Bowl rate, but dropped its price to $129 for the weekend of Feb. 21.

Though some hotels have already sold out -- including South Florida's largest resort, the Fontainebleau Miami Beach -- high prices keep others with empty rooms as the game approaches.

Abravaya, owner of the Cavalier, said he's only sold 10 of his 45 rooms for Super Bowl. The modest Ocean Drive hotel is charging $350 a night for the game weekend, compared to $155 a night for a regular February weekend. He said he's willing to drop prices in order to avoid what happened to him in 2007 when he kept rates high but wound up with 10 empty rooms on game day.

He's hoping fan interest will pick up as Super Bowl approaches. "New Orleans might surprise me," he said. "Indianapolis will not."

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To see more of The Miami Herald or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.herald.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Miami Herald

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