By Eric Deines
While overall track attendance may have taken a slight hit due to a shaky economy, tourism officials say Cabarrus County hotels fared well during last week’s Bank of America 500 festivities.
Doug Stafford, of hotel development company Griffin Stafford, estimated Cabarrus County hotels maintained the desired 100 percent capacity over the three-day race weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
Stafford said this year’s hotel business was “pretty much on par with 2007,” thanks to Cabarrus hotels’ unique proximity to the track.
“Because of our unique location, Cabarrus County hotels — especially those at Exit 49 — felt very little impact…less than any other hotels,” Stafford said. “Cabarrus County is well-positioned to weather a downturn or a soft patch in travel or tourism.”
Stafford said the county’s several tourism destinations, like Concord Mills and the Speedway, help keep hotel business strong in Cabarrus during times when tourism is slightly down.
“If we were in Gastonia, we’d be worried,” Stafford said.
DeSales Wagster, president and CEO of the Cabarrus Convention & Visitors Bureau, said this year’s Bank of America 500 will likely not produce the $115-125 million economic impact it usually turns out.
“What we’re hearing from industry partners, it wasn’t as robust as last year,” Wagster said, adding that figures were still positive in the sense that huge crowds of race fans still flocked to the race despite troubles on Wall Street. “It speaks to the tenacity of race fans.”
Wagster blamed a below-normal race day turnout on fuel shortages that were played up by the media in the weeks just before the race.
“If I’m from Illinois or I’m from Florida, I would have been planning the weekend prior to the race. When it was time to pull the trigger (for those race fans), the news of the gas shortage was there,” Wagster said. “There was no positive story out there. I think that impacted the entire event.”
Wagster said the CVB Web site garnered less visitors leading up the race than years prior — a good indicator of lower attendance figures.
Nancy Obstler, director of sales at Embassy Suites Charlotte-concord Resort and Spa, said her hotel was full for the three-day weekend, but that downtown Charlotte hotels likely saw slower business.
Obstler said Embassy Suites had a couple open rooms that were booked day-of over the course of the weekend.
With just 2,000 hotel rooms in Cabarrus, Wagster said county hotels should always fill up during an event with 90,000-120,000 attendees.
• Contact reporter Eric C. Deines: 704-789-9141.