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The Hyatt Regency Jacksonville still has plenty of rooms available through the weekend.
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jan. 1, 201512:00 PM EST

TaxSlayer Bowl doesn't fill Downtown hotels

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Plenty of room at the inn.

That’s the situation at the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl host hotels.

Both the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront and the Omni Jacksonville have rooms available this week, despite a reported 60,000 tickets sold for Friday’s University of Iowa vs. University of Tennessee game.

“We could come close to selling out on the 1st, but definitely not on the 31st or the 2nd,” said Pat Trammell, director of sales and marketing at the 963-room Hyatt.

Mike Islava, the Omni’s director of sales and marketing, said it’s possible the 354-room hotel could be sold out tonight night. But as of Wednesday, rooms were available for New Year’s Eve and this weekend after the game.

“We’re a little on the slow side, but I think it will pick up,” he said.

In years past, the Omni was the host hotel for one of the teams. Rooms reserved for players, coaches, staff, school administrators, parents and boosters pretty much sold out the hotel.

This year, however, bowl officials decided to put the University of Tennessee entourage at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort in Nassau County.

The Iowa contingent is staying this year at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in St. Johns County, a traditional host hotel for the game.

Relocating one of the team hotels made more than 300 rooms available Downtown this year that have not been in the past.

Demand for Downtown hotel rooms falling short of supply led to rate reductions at the hotels. The bowl’s official travel agency, MTS Travel, offered two-night packages including a $60 game ticket for $789 per person at the Hyatt and $729 at the Omni as soon as this year’s teams were announced.

A room could be booked for less at either hotel as game day got closer.

On Wednesday morning, the Hyatt’s reservations website offered rooms for Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 starting at $269 per night. A deal on its Facebook offered rooms for those nights at $144 per night.

The Omni was offering online reservations for the same dates starting at $139.

Islava said even without being able to hang the “no vacancy” sign on the hotel, having the Omni booked at 80 percent or more the week after Christmas is a plus.

“We could be out there fighting for business,” he said.

Next year’s TaxSlayer Bowl is scheduled to be played Saturday, Jan. 2, with New Year’s Eve on Thursday.

Trammell said creating a Downtown festival atmosphere for the last few days of the year leading up to the game could help hoteliers.

Even without an organized festival, the Hyatt has seen some of that effect this year. Trammell said about half of the people with rooms on New Year’s Eve are staying later.

“So we assume it’s bowl-related,” she said. “In the past, there has been little local market for New Year’s Eve accommodations.”

The college football environment is changing with the new championship playoff format and the proliferation of post-season games.

When the Gator Bowl debuted in 1945, it was just the fifth college bowl game, joining the Cotton, Orange, Rose and Sugar bowls.

This year, 39 bowl games needed to book matchups, making teams with .500 records on the bowl game invitation list. That list included the TaxSlayer Bowl’s 6-6 University of Tennessee. Iowa was 7-5 this season.

“A lot of people won’t spend the money to travel to a bowl game when their team is at .500,” said Trammell.

That means the norm in terms of how many visiting fans will need a place to stay likely will be re-examined.

“We have to rightsize our expectations,” Trammell said.

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