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US Inauguration Fever Drives Crowds, Prices Sky-High

The upcoming second inauguration of US President Barack Obama, scheduled for Jan. 21, has created a frenzied grab-fest of luxury hotel rooms and exclusive tickets that is driving prices far beyond their face value.

WASHINGTON, January 10 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) The upcoming second inauguration of US President Barack Obama, scheduled for Jan. 21, has created a frenzied grab-fest of luxury hotel rooms and exclusive tickets that is driving prices far beyond their face value.

“Everyone wants the tickets but they all want to haggle, and at this point I can haggle for more than I was asking to start with,” said one man who posted an ad on the Craigslist classified ads website offering two seats to the swearing-in ceremony at the US Capitol for $4,000.

He asked not to be identified because he didn’t want to get the friend who gave him the tickets in trouble.

He said his friend works for a Republican member of Congress, and got the tickets for free but wasn’t keen on watching a Democratic president take the oath of office, so he handed them over and the two men agreed to split the profits.

On Thursday, the seller told RIA Novosti he had two interested buyers in a mini-bidding war.

“I’m not going to go above $5,000 unless somebody is shoving the money in my hand,” he said, laughing.

But that might not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

Congressional staffers and others who get passes to the swearing-in event at no cost aren’t technically allowed to sell them but often do.

This year, due to a mix-up, tickets to the official Inaugural Ball that were supposed to be available to the public starting this past Monday, were instead accidentally made available the day before, and ended up selling out overnight. The tickets began popping up in online ads for upwards of $2,000 each.

Something else that’s selling like hotcakes: hotel rooms.

There are 27,000 hotel rooms in Washington, and the city is braced to sell out over the inauguration weekend.

“Second inaugurations tend to be smaller, but the Washington Transit Authority expects 600,000 to 800,000 people to ride into the city on inauguration day, which would make this the second largest inauguration in history,” said Kate Gibbs, Media Relations Manager for Destination DC, the city’s official convention and tourism corporation, in an interview with RIA Novosti.

Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 was the largest event ever recorded on the national mall, with an estimated 1.8 million people in attendance, she said.

“The second was Lyndon Johnson in 1965 with 1.2 million and then Bill Clinton with 800,000 for his first inauguration,” she said, adding that all those people have to stay somewhere.

In recent decades, luxury hotels in the city have entered into something of an unofficial competition to come up with the most extravagant, over-the-top luxury packages imaginable for inaugural events.

This year, one of the most expensive on record is a $201,300 “West Wing” experience being offered by the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown hotel.

Isn’t that a little crazy?

“Yes, but that includes a whole floor. Two private floors, actually, and you get special food presentations every night, special etched glasses, you get this one-of-a-kind necklace, so it’s really very nice,” said Colleen Evans, director of public relations for Ritz-Carlton.

“What is really the most exclusive part is a behind-the-scenes tour of the Capitol and some of the other iconic sites in Washington, which you really can’t buy,” she added.

And, you get to host your very own inaugural ball for 75 of your closest friends.

The Ritz-Carlton has also hired a “scent butler” for its downtown Washington facility, available to spray hotel guests with the preferred scents of past presidents and first ladies.

“Ritz-Carlton was the first to create the first over the top package and that was during Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration and so they did it mainly to create this mystique about the hotel – they actually sold the package, and we’ve done this ever since,” said Evans.

The trend has caught on, and most luxury hotels in the Washington area offer admittedly over-the-top specials for inaugurations every four years.

This time around, though, the Madison Hotel has come up with a first: a social media butler.

“This is someone that will tweet for you, post photos and comments to your Facebook account, Pinterest, whatever you may like, so you can have fun and still let your friends and family follow all the action without having to worry about taking pictures,” said Madison Hotel spokeswoman Meredith Goldberg.

The package, which is being offered for $47,000, includes four nights, a private inauguration tour, and lots of special perks, she said.

The 2009 inauguration generated revenue of $94 million for the Washington region. It’s not expected to be quite that high in 2013, but still a significant source of income, said Gibbs.

But with all the money being tossed around, it’s still possible to enjoy the festivities for little or no cost.

“You don’t need a ticket for the inauguration, it’s completely free to just stand on the mall,” Gibbs said. “The fun is really just being in the crowd, you don’t need a ticket to the parade, either.”

Some economy hotels, she said, were going for as low as $189 a night.

Some Washington residents are renting out rooms and apartments, cashing in and heading out of town.

Virginia resident Robert Nathan has posted ads for hotel rooms he’s already booked, ranging from $280 to $400 per night.

“I used to travel a lot and I have a lot of rewards points, so I have booked these rooms and I’m waiting for some calls,” he said.

But for those on a really reduced budget, at least one Washington youth hostel is expected to have beds available for as little as $49 per night for guests 18 and over.

“That’s a space in a ten-bed dorm, said front desk supervisor Emily Reid at Hostelling International.

“The day after Obama got re-elected, I probably had 15 or 20 calls the next morning,” she said. “But we have a pretty lenient cancellation policy, so beds open up here and there. I just booked one for the inauguration this morning.”


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