RUGBY TACKLED Bugged by the room rates

Posted on 10/01/2015

Even the venerable Doctor Foster might think twice about going to Gloucester on Oct 11th. In the pantheon of world sports, anyone who thinks that rugby is not that big of a deal hasn’t been in the UK over the last couple of weeks.  
The Ruby World Cup (RWC) started on Sep 19th and is playing itself out in 11 British cities until its London final at Wembley Stadium on Oct 31st. Cities hosting games are: London (with three venues), Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds, Cardiff and Birmingham as well as some less obvious spots like Exeter, Milton Keynes and yes, Gloucester. If the good doctor were planning a trip to Gloucester on the weekend of October 17th, two nights at the city center, three-star, New County Hotel - which boasts of “clean rooms and a good breakfast” - would cost him US $295. If however he were to be there a week earlier when the USA is scheduled to play Japan in the RWC, the same clean room would cost him $719. Hopefully the breakfast will be ‘outstandingly good’ for the extra $424! But Gloucester is by no means unique. The day before the tournament began a Daily Telegraph study showed that room rates in and around all the venues were up by as much as 1,095 percent, with an average increase of £169 per night.

According to Trivago, Cardiff is the worst offender with increases of between 400 and 1,096 percent for the four games to be played there in October - which ironically will not even feature the Welsh team. You might want to rethink any plans you had to be in the Welsh capital around Oct 17th, which is a quarterfinal date. It will be very loud and extremely expensive, with what would normally be an £85 room going for a princely £1,018! Supply and demand obviously plays a part in such pricing decisions and yet even London with its bottomless pit of hotel rooms has seized on the opportunity to punish the RWC crowd as well as others simply caught in the crossfire. Last week I happened to fall into the latter category with a last-minute business trip to London. While I was aware that the RWC had started, I was unaware that London Fashion Week was also under way – and was certainly unprepared for the havoc both were wreaking on hotel availability and pricing.

A few days in advance of my trip I found that all my usual hostelries had zero availability and that the rates seemed to have gone through the roof. I ended up making an online booking for three nights at a somewhat dubious four-star property just around the corner from Paddington Station. The rate of £199-a-night seemed a little over the top for the look of the place but the fact that it was within walking distance of the Heathrow Express was a distinct plus. As it turned out the place was fine. The room was tiny but immaculate, the bath towels were big and fluffy (a particular quality fetish of mine) and the staff was very pleasant. I wouldn’t necessarily stay there again, but given the circumstances it was more than adequate. Then came the big surprise! I’d booked myself for three nights but when an unexpected meeting cropped up for Friday morning I needed to extend by a night. Aware of the limited availability of rooms it was with some trepidation that I asked at the front desk if there was any way to stay one more night. After an initial, “Sorry sir I think we’re sold out” she surprised me with, “Oh, we just had a cancellation. You can stay in your room but I’m afraid the rate will be a little bit higher.”

I was delighted thinking a few pounds more wouldn’t be that bad - then she dropped the axe: The ‘little bit higher’ than the £199 I’d been paying was an astonishing £549! My flabber was truly gasted. The woman behind the desk was giving me that, “don’t shoot me I’m only the messenger” look as I politely declined the chance to pay a five-star rate for what was really at best a three star product. A quick online search proved fruitless so, getting a little anxious, I took to the streets in search of a room for the next night. I stopped into every half decent hotel in the area - it should be noted that Paddington has a lot of so-called hotels that do not come close to the ‘half decent’ mark – and after about eight “sorry, sold outs” managed to find one that had a room for a mere £210 - I took it. The tiny basement room was dimly lit and noisy from the street above but appeared to be clean so I figured one night wasn't going to kill me. Well maybe kill me it didn’t but it sure as hell has proved more than a little, how shall we say, ‘irritating’.

Unfortunately is a site with which I wasn’t previously familiar. Go there today and you’ll be surprised to see it lists 475 London hotels including some five-stars and sure enough my ‘any port in a storm’ property is one of them. So I guess the moral to this tale is it’s better to be bugged at paying a high room rate that get the bugs that come with a low one: Or in this case it might make for a whole new definition to the term ‘rugger bugger’.