The Monterey Peninsula is among the country’s most popular travel destinations, particularly for automotive enthusiasts. It’s a hub for car shows, competitions and special events — the Concours d’Elegance to the return of IndyCar racing in 2019.
Enthusiasts and collectors from around the world flood the area, notably during Classic Car Week in August and at the end of September at the Rennsport vintage Porsche weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
But new and vintage cars and motorcycle races are held throughout the year. Public and private automotive museums and a rental company specializing in exotics get plenty of business. There’s a gallery specializing in automotive art in Carmel, a race driving school in Salinas and a healthy corps of classic car owners zipping around in their machines.
Chain hotels (Embassy Suites, Hyatt Regency), roadside motels (Days Inn, Super 8), boutique inns (Four Sisters), independents and golf resorts are often packed. Restaurants and pubs are crowded. Proprietors are well aware of the boon tourists bring to the area.
And there’s a problem. During peak times, many proprietors take advantage of the supply-and-demand scenario. On many well-known travel sites, prices in all level of accommodations this year were as much as six times higher than during slower times of the year. It defines gouging.
Consider: For the upcoming Rennsport weekend, Booking.com, a travel site I’ve used for more than 20 years while vacationing and for assignments (and known for industry-best prices) lists the following for two-night stays: Sept. 28-29: Arbor Inn, roadside motel in Monterey ($649); Hyatt Regency in Monterey ($826), Motel 6 in Monterey ($570) and Carmel Inn & Suites, a boutique hotel ($818). Really?
If you’re not interested in the Rennsport event, but are a golf enthusiast considering visiting the Monterey Peninsula for the PURE Insurance Championship, a PGA Champions Tour event scheduled in Pebble Beach the same weekend, good luck finding a place to stay — unless you’re fine with rates several times higher than normal.
But there are exceptions to the prominent practice of gouging.
Tamara Mims, president of Four Sisters Inns, which includes Green Gables Inn and Gosby House Inn in Pacific Grove and Coachman’s Inn in Carmel, knows the peak and off-seasons on the peninsula as well as anyone. She reports rates typically increase by $50 per night during special events.
The popularity of motorsports on the peninsula also presents another issue for enthusiasts considering visiting for the first time. Regular visitors often reserve their rooms for the following year when they check out from their current stay. It’s also common for property owners to require two or four-night minimum stays.
The situation will likely get worse in 2019. After a 15-year absence, IndyCar racing will return Sept. 20-22 to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Accommodation options will probably mimic the dilemma during Classic Car Week and other events. The IndyCar event will be held at the time as the annual Monterey Jazz Festival.
Mike Terry, the long-time proprietor of Los Laureles Lodge in Carmel Valley, maintains standard rates for special events, but he does increase minimum stay requirements.
“You build a product; you’ll build a widget,” said Terry. “I am a supply and demand guy. But why should that widget go up, two, three or four times just because there’s a little more demand? The value of the product stays the same. The demand rises, but I don’t think the demand rises at a higher rate than what the valued of the product is.”
Terry, a bicycling enthusiast, also has a yearly return guest list for the Sea Otter Classic, the annual cyclist festival at Laguna Seca. His retains the same approach to accommodations as he does for Classic Car Week.
“I don’t want to say that all people who don’t raise their rates are all great,” said Terry. “We do set a minimum stay. For the car week that just happened. I want to see three or four days. I am not looking for a single-day person just because my rates are fair.”
But at least Terry and some other proprietors are fair. But it’s the exception, not the rule.