Room to improve: New Hotels Set to Create More Options for Sports Tourism

COLUMBUS, IN - The new Fairfield Inn & Suites hotel opening on Friday and the Holiday Inn scheduled to open in December may be just what Columbus needs to keep one of its largest national sports tournaments.

About 175 to 200 teams are expected to compete in the July 17 to 22 USSSA Fastpitch national tournament held in Columbus, bringing an estimated 10,600 players and fans to Columbus, tournament director Tim Foster said. But some teams have contacted Foster about not being able to secure rooms in local hotels, which means they will have to stay overnight in communities such as Seymour and Greenwood, he said.

That situation potentially puts the local tournament at risk for future years, Foster said.

“If we don’t get something where we can work together with the hotels and get these (blocks of) rooms, then we may be looking to have to pull the national tournament out of Columbus,” Foster said. “We don’t want to do that. I want to keep it in our city.”

Groups can call any hotel and ask for group blocks of rooms, said Cindy Waddle, regional manager for Dora Hotels and a Columbus Area Visitors Center board member.

The visitors center’s website lists eight hotels in Columbus, all but one of them at the State Road 46 exit of Interstate 65. The Fairfield Inn will be the ninth. Another six hotels are located eight miles north at the Taylorsville/Edinburgh interstate exit.

Investigating discounts

The number of rooms available to a group depends on the individual property, Waddle said. Prices fluctuate during high-demand weekends, but Waddle said some rates for groups and corporations can be negotiated a year in advance, depending on the individual property.

“(Groups) may get a discount, or the discount might be minimal. There is a lot of analytics that go into determining those rates,” Waddle said.

Columbus lost 253 rooms when the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center closed July 10 of last year, creating some obstacles for the growing sports tourism industry in the city. Demand for Columbus area hotels doesn’t come from just the USSSA Fastpitch tournaments. For example, Columbus hosts a number of different sporting activities during the summer that attract families from all over the country, including meets put on by Donner Swim Club.

Donner recently hosted the three-day Jaime Miller Invitational, which drew about 600 swimmers from across the Midwest. Coach Logan Schaefer estimated that 1,200 to 1,300 visitors came into Columbus for that event. Finding lodging for them was more difficult because of the Clarion’s closing, he said.

Ike DeClue, sports tourism director for the visitors center, is hoping the Fairfield Inn & Suites on Merchant’s Mile and a new Holiday Inn that’s under construction on Johnathon Moore Pike will provide enough capacity to meet future sports tourism needs. Nearly 200 additional rooms will be added between the two hotels, with the Fairfield Inn adding 96 and the Holiday Inn adding another 100.

“The (Clarion) replacements of the Holiday Inn and Fairfield Inn are going to be pretty nice,” DeClue said.

As of Thursday, rooms were still available for booking from July 17 to 22 through the Fairfield Inn website.

While lodging shortages may still be an issue for this year, the situation looks better longer term, DeClue said.

Foster used a pay-to-stay company called Traveling Teams that bought a large number of rooms well in advance and then sold them to the teams and families as they needed them during last year’s tournament. He opted to do away with that this year because the company was adding an additional $15 to $20 per room to the cost, Foster said.

However, the tournament hasn’t been able to reserve as many rooms for families this year, so Foster said he will be going back to a pay-to-stay company to make sure enough rooms are available next summer.

State tournament

Hotel availability wasn’t as big of an issue for the USSSA state tournament, held in Columbus last weekend and this weekend.

That’s because many of the participating coaches and parents lived close enough that driving to Columbus wasn’t a problem, and the teams that opted to stay booked hotel rooms well in advance.

Kate Todd, who helps coordinate the tournaments with Foster, said splitting the state tournament into two weekends this summer instead of one also helped with hotel space.

The state fastpitch tournament drew 102 teams to Columbus last weekend and 211 this weekend.

“If we had to keep this to one weekend, we would have been in trouble because we would have had a total of 313 teams and we wouldn’t have been able to do that,” Foster said.

DeClue said most teams that travel for tournaments are used to a 35- to 45-minute drive to their field. But what people like about coming to Columbus is that they have usually been able to find lodging close to the playing areas, he said.

“We don’t want anybody to be disappointed about where they have to stay or how far they have to drive,” DeClue said. “(We’re) trying to keep everybody happy this summer with greener pastures coming in the future when we have more space.”

Putting together the national tournament has been more hectic for Foster this year because teams have been contacting him when they have trouble finding rooms. It’s been left up to Foster to find a place for the teams to stay, he said.

Hotel shortages during the tournament also have affected the budget because the USSSA was not able to get complementary rooms for umpires, as he had in years past, Foster said. Those costs are being covered out of pocket by the sports organization, he said.

Golf tournament

John Fairbanks, tournament chairman for the 2018 Circle K AJGA Championship hosted by Otter Creek, already has secured the Fairfield Inn as host hotel for its July 3-5 tournament, replacing the Clarion. The tournament will be preceded by a July 1 qualifier and a July 2 junior-am and junior clinic.

“As soon as we knew the Clarion was going to be out of the mix this year, we started talking to ownership out at the Fairfield Marriott,” Fairbanks said. “They have a number of rooms blocked out for the tournament, and then other hotels in the area will probably get a lot of business as well. “

Fairfield Inn and and Holiday Inn could be what keeps the USSSA national tournament in Columbus if more opportunities for reserving blocks of rooms become available, Foster said.

The fastpitch softball organization has about three months to decide where the 2019 tournament will be held, as bids must be submitted in September, he said.

The Fairfield Inn will have been open for nearly three months, and the Holiday Inn will be three months away from opening its doors by then.

“I know how important these events are to communities,” Foster said. “That’s why I don’t want it (moved) out of here.”

New hotels

Fairfield Inn & Suites

Opening Day: Friday

Available Rooms: 96

Address: 2820 Merchants Mile

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Holiday Inn Express & Suites

Opening Date: December 

Available Rooms: 100

Address: 2485 Jonathon Moore Pike

By Frank Bonner, The Republic

Shannon Sullivan