Hoping to attend the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama? So were the Rev. Darrell Parker of Canton, Ohio, his wife, Geneva, and a motor coach full of friends and congregation members.
Hoping to attend the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama?
So were the Rev. Darrell Parker of Canton, Ohio, his wife, Geneva, and a motor coach full of friends and congregation members.
No matter how they get there and where they find shelter, millions will descend on Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20 vying for a glimpse of Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden taking the oath of office on the steps of the Capitol at high noon.
Parker knew the greatest challenges -- transportation and lodging. First, he locked in a deal with Candle Coach Charters here.
Then he began dialing for rooms.
“We started calling hotels in Maryland,” said the pastor of Emmanuel Tabernacle, “and we probably called 20 or 25 and had no luck. But on Nov. 10, we finalized everything with the Roadway Inn in Martinsburg, W. Va. (63 miles from the Capitol).
“They faxed me a contract for 25 rooms for two nights, which said I had to have it back to them by Nov. 24. The next day, I get a call from the hotel, and the girl is telling me they have given away our rooms.”
Parker was flummoxed. He had a verbal agreement with the group sales representative at the hotel and had received the faxed contract she promised. Now there were no rooms? How could that be?
“I told her I’ve been doing trips between my wife and I for 25 years, and this had never happened. She said there was nothing I could do about it, and I told her I would be calling for legal advice,” Parker said.
Still, he signed the contract and faxed it back to the hotel the same day he received it, Nov. 11. But the hotel group sales representative would not budge, explaining that a hotel official had not signed the contract rendering it nonbinding.
Calls to the hotel manager were not returned.
Parker had reserved a motor coach with Candle Coach Charters in Canton. Of the company’s five buses, two had been designated for travel to the inauguration. Parker was forced to cancel his reservation.
Candle Coach owner Howard Parks was having his own problems.
“We can’t get rooms for our drivers to sleep. We have a possibility of getting driver rooms at Breezewood (Pa.), which is still a long way from D.C. On the second bus, we’re doing a red-eye; we drive down and come right back at the end of the event.
“They aren’t letting buses into the Capitol. We have to park at Metro (a public transportation site) or at RFK Stadium,” Parks explained.
The end of the story has not yet been written for Parker’s flock. He and his wife, he said, probably would drive the 265 miles to the inauguration and stay with relatives. Others may do the same.
D.C. in a dither
In her seven years at the helm of marketing and communications for the Capitol’s tourism and convention bureau -- www.destinationdc.com -- senior vice president Victoria Isley has never seen the level of excitement engulfing the area.
“The historical number we have for the most people for an inauguration was with Lyndon Johnson, and that was 1.2 million,” she said. “But this is a powerful moment, and people want to be here to experience it firsthand.”
Toward that end, the Web site is providing all the information it has available and updates it as the inauguration draws nearer. Isley said there are 29,000 hotel rooms in the District of Columbia, 95,000 rooms in the region including Virginia and Maryland.
“There is availability within the district, but it is very limited,” she continued. “Things are so fluid at the moment. Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, all those form a system, and hotels have pulled their inventory out of the online systems so they can control it at the property level.
“What we stress is that, because of the demand, travelers understand most of the hotels require a four-night stay, so when they come to our Web site, they need to make sure of the check-in and check-out dates.
“They also can change the default search parameters to the Washington, D.C., region. Or they can call visitors services at (800) 422-8644, which can let them know as of the last survey which hotels had availability.”
Surveys are conducted weekly.
A call to the 800 number yielded a cheerful staffer who said, at last check, there were some hotels in the Marriott chain in Maryland and Virginia with a few four-night minimum vacancies for Jan. 17 to 21 and Jan. 18 to 22. And the price per room per night?
“Well, we are a capitalist country, and they start at $550 a room,” he answered, adding that the rate was at least twice the regular rate. “We’re expecting 4 million visitors for the inauguration, but they’ll be happy visitors.”
For those wary of inauguration crowds, Isley said an alternative visitors’ package has been assembled using the inauguration theme, “New Birth of Freedom,” taken from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to commemorate the 200th birthday of the 16th president.
From Jan. 1 through April, more than 80 events focusing on Lincoln’s life and legacy have been planned for the bicentennial celebration.
“This is a city that makes history every day,” Isley declared. “If people are not able to come to the inauguration, this will be something special for them.”