WEG, Kentucky Govt. Launch Drive to Cut High Games Visitor Prices
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
WINDSOR, England, Sept. 1–Organizers of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and Kentucky’s government are launching a drive to cut high hotel costs that European media has warned will significantly cut both competition participation and foreign spectators to the once every four year event being held in the United States for the first time.
The organizers at briefings at the European Dressage and Jumping Championships to update the status of preparations for WEG reported average hotel prices of $250 to $300 (€175/€210) per night in the Lexington area. These rates are more than three times prices quoted at other major equestrian events in Lexington.
Resistance from prospective visitors to the current prices was expected to lead to cuts closer to the start of WEG on Sept. 25, 2010.
At the same time, the top Kentucky government officials and the WEG organizing body said that they would press hotels to offer more affordable pricing while also developing alternatives such as lower cost bed and breakfast accommodations.
Jamie Link, chief exeutive officer for only the past nine months of the WEG 2010 Foundation that is the organizing body of the Games, said in the first of two briefings at Windsor said, “We are working to provide the most economical accommodations possible.”
A second briefing a day later was led by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and included a phalanx of officials from the state and WEG to highlight improvements to elevate the 1,200-acre (485 hectares) Kentucky Horse Park to one of the world’s top equestrian venues.
Tens of millions of dollars have been spent completing a new main outdoor arena, a high-tech indoor arena and other facilities that are hosting test events a year ahead of WEG of two weeks of competition of eight equestrian disciplines.
Officials admitted that although they had been warned in advance of concerns in Europe about Lexington’s high hotel and ticket costs they were stunned at the sharp tone of the criticism and threats by the media to warn consumers in their nations to expect exorbitant prices, essentially advising them to stay at home.
The current prices, they said, would prevent at least half of the media from outside the Americas that usually covered the WEG and Olympics from being able to afford to report on the Lexington competition.
The organizers gave no indication there would be any reduction in published ticket prices. Prices for dressage tickets that go on sale on Sept. 25 are significantly higher than those charged at WEG in Aachen, Germany in 2006.
An all day ticket for a covered stadium seat for the dressage Grand Prix at the 2006 WEG ranged from €36 (US$51 at current exchange rate) up to €70 (US$100). Open air seating was €24 (US$34) and standing room €16 (US$23).
Dressage Grand Prix at Lexington has been broken into two sections each day in the Main Stadium with ticket prices ranging from US$60 (€42) to US$90 (€63) per session, or an all day rate of $120 (€84) to US$180 (€126).
The price issue overshadowed reports on the successful Kentucky Horse Park construction that covers all competition arenas, new permanent stabling in addition to renovation of existing permanent stables, new footing that competitors listed as a top priority and gave the surface rave reviews, and completely rebuilding roads within the sprawling complex.
- Kentucky Horse Park’s new Indoor Arena.
For Europe where horse sports rank with top sport like soccer, the addition of horse transportation and trans Atlantic air fares and the costs of competing in Lexington are prohibitive for some nations. One case cited was of an East European country where sending a single four-in-hand driving team amounted to that national federation’s entire annual budget.
For Asia and Australasia, the costs of competing in Europe and North America are about the same. For the Americas, especially Canada, Mexico and the U.S. transportation are significantly lower than shipping horses and humans to Europe.
However, currently quoted accommodation costs are three times greater than quoted during other major events at Lexington, including the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event and major jumper and dressage competitions.
European photographers and reporters who covered equestrian events in Lexington this year said hotel charges were $89 (€62) per night. However, when they tried to make reservations for WEG 2010 they said they were told that no rooms were available at those prices as deals had been made with the WEG organizing committee.
All of the Kentucky government, WEG and Kentucky Horse Park officials stressed that they had no power to dictate prices to privately owned hotels in the United States’ free market economy.
But, they said, they would exert pressure to bring down prices as soon as possible.
Another issue for foreign media was that unlike other foreign business visitors to the U.S., special visas were required for media representatives that required considerable time and effort to acquire. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, waivers were provided to media cutting through the red tape for media covering the Games.
Gov, Beshear said that his, wife, Jane, was leading efforts to have the federal government ease visa requirements for the media for WEG.