Early February is typically not the busiest time for the Minneapolis hotel market.
But just try to book a Minneapolis hotel for Feb. 2–5 — the Friday before to the Monday after Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on Feb. 4 — and, well, you can’t. On the popular hotel-booking website Travelocity, a search on those dates in early October brought up a map speckled with red dots, signifying sold out hotels.
There were some rooms available, but in places like Chaska and Apple Valley — second- and third-ring suburbs a half-hour drive from the stadium.
Travelocity still showed some downtown hotel vacancies in the first half of Minneapolis’ Super Bowl week. Any out-of-towners planning to come in for the pre-game festivities, like the NFL Experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center or the free Super Bowl Live celebration on Nicollet Mall, should keep in mind rates for those nights are likely only going in one direction: up.
“The prices will obviously get higher the longer you wait,” said Kristen Montag, communications manager for Meet Minneapolis, the city’s convention and visitors association.
Montag said the NFL began negotiating with local hotels to book a block of 19,000 metro-area rooms almost as soon as Minneapolis was awarded the Super Bowl in 2014. The league planned to release some of those rooms onto the market in October, she said, but Meet Minneapolis still expects bookings to be tight during the entire 10-day lead-up to the Super Bowl.
Even hotel alternatives are experiencing a surge in demand. In late September, Airbnb announced that it had 1,730 active hosts in Minneapolis and St. Paul, a 73-percent increase in just six months.
Surge in construction
Minneapolis is experiencing a surge in hotel construction, with 1,050 rooms added in 2016, according to Meet Minneapolis. Those new rooms amount to nearly 12 percent of the city’s current 8,973-room total capacity.
Meet Minneapolis is tracking another 1,705 rooms currently planned or in development. Of those, just the 55-room boutique luMINN under construction near City Hall and the 124-room Moxy Uptown at Lake & Emerson are expected to be ready for Super Bowl guests.
Montag said the buildup wasn’t just about the big game coming to town. Hotel developers closely monitor occupancy levels, and with Minneapolis posting a sustained occupancy rate above 70 percent for several years, there was a demonstrated need to add capacity, she said.
“The rooms would have been built regardless of the Super Bowl,” she said. “Many of them were probably in development before we even knew we were getting the Super Bowl, but obviously once you have something like that booked it spurs interest in the destination.”
Bringing the crowds
The game is also bringing a surge of visitors during what is traditionally a slow time for Minneapolis tourism.
Montag said the April–November time period is considered “convention season” in Minneapolis, and hotels are usually looking for a little more help driving bookings during the winter. The city’s hotel market is also strongly influenced by business travel, which generally leads to more weekday bookings and slower hotel business on weekends, she said.
Minneapolis hotel occupancy dipped to about 26 percent on Feb. 5, 2016, the date of last year’s Super Bowl in Houston. During the week leading up to the game, occupancy peaked at just over 62 percent on the prior Tuesday.
One common measure of hotel financial performance is revenue per available room. During last year’s Super Bowl week, Minneapolis hotels did the best on Monday–Wednesday bookings and made less per room on Friday and Saturday night.
The local tourism industry sees the Super Bowl as a chance to convince some visitors that a return visit is in order. The Great Northern — the new catchall brand name for the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival, U.S. Pond Hockey Championships and other wintry events that take place each year around Super Bowl time — is part of that strategy.
“We’ll all be doing whatever we can do to make sure the experience is good for visitors,” Montag said.
CORRECTION: The original version included an incorrect date for the year the NFL awarded Minneapolis the Super Bowl. It was 2014.