In addition to its colorful interior, the Graduate Columbia hotel offers close proximity being on USC’s campus. (Photo by Jack Veltri)

Downtown Columbia hotel rooms are selling out fast for a busy weekend ahead. Not only will South Carolina football be playing UNC Charlotte on Saturday night, but families will be traveling to Columbia for the school’s annual Family Weekend.

Eleven hotels are now fully occupied, according to Others that haven’t sold out have set their weekend prices – for two nights – at more than $1,000 total. That’s not unusual for such a jam-packed weekend.

For Marriott Columbia General Manager Rick Dunlap, Gamecock football makes all the difference.

“The SEC and conference games are one of the biggest drivers in the Columbia market, behind probably graduation and the Masters Tournament,” Dunlap said. 

David Erbacher, the regional director of sales at Hyatt Place, said there’s a “good buzz” when the hotel is busy on weekends during the season. 

“Everybody’s always in a good mood when it comes to a football weekend,” Erbacher said. “It’s a good environment, not only for the guests coming in but for us as employees in the hotels.”

There’s a noticeable difference in availability when there isn’t a home football game, according to Dunlap.

When the Gamecocks travel, for example, to play the Kentucky Wildcats in two weeks, total prices for a two-night weekend range from $300 to $450.

With Family Weekend happening at the same time, the University of South Carolina is expecting more than 2,300 families, or 7,800 participants, according to Dana Woodward, the school’s associate director of institutional relations and public affairs.

Last year, USC parent Allison Roden of New Jersey stayed at the Graduate Columbia hotel on Pendleton Street. When she thought about coming back again this year, she was surprised to see prices at $550 per night. 

She decided to explore less expensive options, choosing to stay at a bed and breakfast on Hampton Street. 

Roden said she stayed there when her daughter, Lexi, a third-year marketing and management student at USC, was touring schools. 

She recently gave Mary Sparrow, the Chestnut Cottage owner, a call, thinking she wouldn’t remember her from four years ago. As it turned out, Sparrow didn’t forget about them and found an opening, so Roden booked it right away. 

Roden said she made it a priority to book in advance to avoid being in a situation where everything was sold out. 

“I adore my daughter, and I would never want to miss out on an opportunity for parent’s weekend or any weekend,” Roden said. “And she wanted me to come visit. So it definitely takes planning ahead of time.”

Marriott Columbia, Hyatt Place, Courtyard by Marriott and Hilton Columbia Center are trying to make the higher prices worth it.

“We want to make sure if you’re paying extra money, we want to add value to your stay,” Erbacher said. “So one day this weekend, we’re adding on country fried steak to our breakfasts. We’re adding pimento cheese sausage biscuits, to kind of give a Southern flair.”

In addition to making their guests feel at home, the Hilton Columbia Center preaches the benefits of being within walking distance of shops, restaurants and campus. Front desk supervisor Shanice Burton said it also provides many guests with discounts. 

“Depending on occupancy and our rates, we do give parents a discount depending on how close they book,” Burton said. “Parents that do have children that go to USC, we do give them a discount. If they’re Hilton Honors members, they get another discount on top of that.”

With a game on Saturday, hotels are expecting to see a large number of guests arrive on Friday. Dunlap said the best way to manage the crowds is to be prepared.  

“So, we make sure all our rooms are ready to go and make sure valet is staffed up for the heavy arrival,” Dunlap said.

Bar chart comparing downtown Columbia weekend hotel prices for USC’s upcoming home game against UNC Charlotte and its away game against the University of Kentucky (Graphic by Jack Veltri and Noah Watson)

Exterior of the Graduate Columbia hotel, located on Pendleton Street. (Photo by Jack Veltri)

The Hilton Columbia Center lays out brochures for guests when they come to visit. (Photo by Jack Veltri)