Fully booked? Depends on where you go
Many Lake Placid hotels are fully booked and bustling with FISU officials, athletes and workforce this week as the world arrives for the 2023 FISU Winter World University Games, which officially begin today in Lake Placid.
However, at many hotels on the outskirts of Lake Placid and elsewhere in the Tri-Lakes that aren’t housing athletes, delegations and other personnel for the games, hotel managers are reporting average — or below average — bookings for the winter season.
Many of the hotels located near the winter sports venues in Lake Placid — including larger hotels like the Golden Arrow, the Grand Adirondack Hotel, the Crowne Plaza, the High Peaks Resort, Art Devlin’s Olympic Motor Inn and the Best Western — were booked far ahead of the games with rooms earmarked for FISU athletes, delegations, law enforcement and staff.
Lori Fitzgerald — the head of accommodations for Lake Placid 2023, the local organizing committee for the games — started working on booking hotel rooms for FISU workforce, athletes, delegates, officials and other “client groups” associated with the games in September 2021, according to Jon Lundin, the head of communications for Lake Placid 2023. He said those accommodations include bookings for 1,443 athletes and more than 700 delegates and officials. The hotel bookings for these groups were funded by the organizing committee’s operating budget, according to Lundin, which he said is funded by the state, various sponsorships, ticket sales and retail merchandise.
Outside of Lake Placid, Lundin said the organizing committee also booked accommodations for FISU groups in Paul Smiths — like the dorms at Paul Smith’s College, which will house athletes during the games — as well as hotel rooms in Potsdam.
Lake Placid, Keene
While some Lake Placid hotels are fully booked with FISU athletes and staff, many smaller or high-end hotels in this area, that weren’t booked by FISU organizers, are reporting average — or below average — bookings throughout the games.
Hotels outside of Main Street that offer higher-end boutique stays, like the Lake Placid Lodge, are reporting low bookings during the games.
Michael Takach, an owner of the Stagecoach Inn on Old Military Road in Lake Placid, said his bed and breakfast has a lower occupancy than they normally see during an average winter week. They’ve even provided reduced pricing on their rooms during the games for people who need a room, but Takach said he didn’t expect a large influx of visitors for the games anyway — the bed and breakfast caters to a different traveling crowd looking for a high-end, “elevated” experience that comes with food, he added, not so much to college-aged athletes or their parents, who he believes are likely spending a lot of money already to fund their kids’ sports. And with most of the games events taking place on Main Street in Lake Placid, he thought it’d be easier for people competing or spectating the games to book a block of rooms closer to the winter sports venues.
“We didn’t forecast it (the games) as any giant boom for us specifically,” Takach said.
In addition to hotels, there are hundreds of short-term vacation rentals in Lake Placid. Airbnb.com, a popular STR booking website, showed 36 STRs still available in Lake Placid for the first weekend of the games on Wednesday. VRBO showed 24 STR properties available in Lake Placid during the first weekend of the games.
Hotel managers and staff outside of Lake Placid, like at the Trail’s End in Keene Valley, said their bookings are low during the games, with around 30% occupancy at the bed and breakfast.
Trail’s End Owner and Managing Innkeeper Dillon Prime said the hotel typically books rooms only a few days in advance during the winter because the area is a “big draw” for ice climbers, so he wasn’t surprised that occupancy for regular tourists was low considering the recent January thaw. But staff at the hotel had heard they’d get more guests for the games than they have.
“We’ve kind of scratched our heads about it,” he said.
In Saranac Lake, Gauthier’s Saranac Lake Inn is booked solid for the entirety of the games. In fact, owner Daniel Brownell says the reservations for the 18 days were made around a year ago. He said they were in contact with FISU early on and became the designated inn for security personnel for the event. The benefit of the traffic the Games brings, as opposed to other events in the area, is that people are staying here much longer than during other events, he said.
Heather Lund, the front office manager for the Best Western hotel in Saranac Lake, said the 69-room hotel is completely full throughout the games, with 40 rooms dedicated for FISU staff and law enforcement.
The housing of event staff and New York State Police there was set up around a year in advance. Lund said because they are hosting staff, the hotel is adjusting its meal schedule around their work. This is slightly different than having a hotel full of tourists, she said.
Hotel Saranac General Manager Jacob Kipping said he was anticipating being completely sold out during the games, but on Tuesday, he said things were “pretty slow,” considering what was promised.
“We were told to prepare like it was going to be the Olympics up here,” he said. “I just think the anticipation for the amount of people for the events was, uh … I’m not sure where the data came from, I guess.”
At 30% booking for the next two weeks, he said that’s slightly higher than normal at this time of year, but he also chalked that up to the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend.
Kipping said the 102-room hotel always expects to be fully booked during other Lake Placid-based events like Ironman or the Lacrosse Summit Classic, and is already starting to fill up for the SU World Synchronized Skating Championships at the end of March.
“Just not the same volumes for FISU,” he said. “It’s certainly slower than we anticipated.”
He said Hotel Saranac was one of the first hotels to open inventory for this event and was the lowest priced hotel for several months. He said he has seen other hotels dropping room blocks set aside for the Games back into the general market.
This is “certainly disappointing,” he said. The hotel had upped its staffing to prepare for the Games, and now he said they’re shifting to a lower amount of work.
Kipping said the investment in the infrastructure of the sports venues was big, and he hopes to see a bigger return on investment in the coming years with more events and tourism there.
Stacey Annis owns the recently-renovated Traverse Lodge on the south end of Saranac Lake, which opened in December. On Monday, Annis said she has one booking for next week.
So far, she felt things were “pretty quiet” with the games on the horizon. She had been hoping to get some lodgers this week.
“At one point the rumor going around was ‘Oh, you’re gonna sell out,'” Annis said.
“I am mildly surprised that there’s been nothing,” she added.
This has been a bit disappointing, but her business is very new and has not gotten its name out much, she said. Also, the weather has been unseasonably warm and she’s not seeing the winter recreation lodgers she was expecting, either.
The Traverse Lodge has seven rooms and two cabins, so she said she still has openings.
Andrew Milne is an owner of the Sara Placid Inn and Suites and Amanda’s Village Motel in Saranac Lake, as well as the Art Devlin’s Olympic Motor Inn in Lake Placid.
The Olympic Motor Inn is sold out.
Milne said curling volunteers from out of the area have been contacting them for lodging in Saranac Lake. He said they’ve been getting lots of last-minute bookings from people from Albany, Canada and throughout the state.
They still have vacancies at the Sara Placid Inn, but Amanda’s is booked. It’s not all FISU-related bookings, he said.
Manager Shannon Reardon said it has been busy and staff are forgoing their own sleep to make sure the volunteers can get their rest.
Milne said events like Ironman or the upcoming combination Winter Carnival/Empire Games weekend typically bring more demand than the Games are, but he added that some bookings are certainly better than no bookings.
At this time last year, he said the coronavirus was raging after the holidays, and people weren’t traveling then. This year, things are “10 times better,” he said.
Milne said the Games’ expected influx led them to do a deep clean and upgrades ahead of time, which is always good to do.
Mark Jessie, who owns the Faust Motel in Tupper Lake, said that the coming weeks looked “completely normal” for bookings, and on some days, actually slow.
He said a company is taking all his rooms on Jan. 12 but he has no bookings from Jan. 17 to 20. Jessie said for months he’s been telling people he didn’t know what to expect, but he hasn’t seen the influx of people looking for rooms that some predicted.
That could change though, he added.
He said people from other places, especially metropolitan areas, might not think that getting a room for the games will be as hard as it might be. They might expect to show up and have rooms available. So, he’s holding out hope to get some last-minute bookers looking for a place to stay — especially since some of the games are in Potsdam, and people will drive right by his motel on the way.
Shaheen’s Adirondack Inn General Manager Jessie Stephens said the Games has not affected this Tupper Lake inn much. He said they weren’t sure what to expect. They were hopeful, but not planning on a big influx. The inn is far away from Lake Placid, he said.
Tupper Lake Motel co-owner Heidi Schuller said she hasn’t gotten any calls for people looking to book rooms for the Games, but even if she did, they don’t have any to spare.
The Tupper Lake Motel is housing displaced residents from the Donald E. Smiths apartments who have been living there for several weeks since a sprinkler system break flooded their apartments in late December. Schuller also said construction workers renovating the damaged apartments are also staying at the motel.
Some of the hotels that are providing housing for FISU officials, delegations and athletes have increased security, both with additional security personnel and metal detectors.
Milne said the Games are much more strict than other events. The U.S. Department of Defense came by and tested their security.
“They pretended like they were doing some shady stuff and we had to report that,” Milne said.
Technicians with security company GXC were seen performing a firmware update on metal detectors at the Golden Arrow on Wednesday. The metal detectors don’t flag people for carrying cell phones and keys, according to technician Joe Eschmann, but they’ll go off if they detect guns, knives, large batteries and other potential security threats.
Jenn Holderied, an owner of the Golden Arrow, said there will also be 10 to 15 security personnel on the premises at all times since the resort is considered an athlete village, and entry points to the hotel will be limited.
There are a few hotels in Lake Placid that have recently completed renovations or construction, or are still under construction.
The former Woodlake Inn on Saranac Avenue in Lake Placid, which is now known as “The Boha” after a change in ownership last year, is housing supporting staff for the games despite incomplete renovations at the hotel. Only some of the rooms are booked and ready for guests, according to Front Desk Operator Christian Hart, and he said the rest will be completed throughout the games — he said hotel staff are finishing rooms one by one as people are checking in.
“We’re finishing rooms accordingly about a day before check-in,” he said.
The Quality Inn in Lake Placid is still under construction — though construction is expected to be complete by August or September of this year, according to General Manager Kristin Preston — and the lower portion of Quality Inn that’s still intact, with a total of 19 rooms available, is mostly housing construction workers. Preston said there are some rooms available to the general public, and she said a “handful” of regular guests are staying there on the weekends. She’s not sure if any of those guests are coming in town to spectate the games.
The former Summit hotel on Saranac Avenue — now known as the Bluebird — is advertising open bookings during the Games, but a spokesperson for the hotel, Maya Minocho, said there isn’t any booking data available for the hotel currently. According to hotel booking website booking.com, there are currently no rooms available at the Bluebird for the duration of the Games.