Democratic delegates cram into hotel rooms to cut sky-high costs
PHILADELPHIA -- Facing hotel bills running into the thousands of dollars, some delegates to the Democratic National Convention are planning to do like college students on spring break and squeeze as many people into a room as they can.
Nicole Lutkemuller, a Bernie Sanders delegate from Tahoma, California, said her two-bed room at the Marriott Hotel Philadelphia Downtown is costing nearly $4,000 for five nights.
So she'll be sharing it with four other Sanders delegates she identified through a roommate matchup project on a Sanders Facebook page. Lutkemuller plans on taking a sleeping bag, and the five will trade off sleeping on the floor and the beds.
"We're hoping for a cot, but there's a limited number," she said.
The high cost of hotel rooms during the convention, which runs Monday through Thursday, has been a sore point for some delegates. The prices were driven up by expected high occupancy rates, which allow hotels to command a premium. Expectations for a great summer for Philadelphia's hotel industry were running high even before the convention, with Memorial Day weekend occupancy rates hitting the highest level in at least a decade, the city's tourism bureau said.
Ed Grose, the executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, said it appeared occupancy would run above 90 percent on peak nights of the convention.
Even with demand dictating prices, hotel managers were surprised by how much some hotels were charging and by what they said was the willingness of the DNC to accept rates as proposed.
"Usually the customer will come back and say, 'Eh, we're hoping for something a little lower,'" said Kevin Murnane, general manager of the Doubletree by Hilton Center City.
In the Doubletree's case, that's not what happened, he said.
"The DNC - they were OK with - they don't get involved. They just took the price, and when you see, there's some pretty high prices. There's some huge prices out there," Murnane said.
He didn't want to discuss his rates. But a Pennsylvania delegate raising money online to stay at the hotel said his delegation quoted him a discounted room rate of $2,100 for five nights.
The DNC said its convention committee negotiated individual contracts with each of the 95 hotels it worked with. In a statement, the committee said, "Negotiations for convention hotels include not only rates but many other elements of a hotel experience such as attrition, function space and food and beverage."
Jan Bauer, a Hillary Clinton delegate from Ames, Iowa, who attended the DNC in New York in 1992, Denver in 2008 and Charlotte, North Carolina in 2012, said she was shocked by how much her room at the Marriott downtown would cost.
Because she is disabled, Bauer said she couldn't share a room with other delegates, though some family will stay with her. She said her room is costing more than $500 a night before taxes.
The Charlotte hotel cost a little over $200 a night - still expensive, Bauer said, but nowhere near the cost this year.
Like some other delegates, she turned to online fundraisers.
But, she said, "It's kind of embarrassing to be asking for funding."
Democrats will have a star-studded lineup of speakers and performers when they descend on Philadelphia.
A series of celebs including singer Demi Lovato and actress/director Lena Dunham tweeted that they were planning to attend the convention.
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