COLUMBIA, S.C. — In a few weeks, thousands of college basketball fans will descend on Columbia for the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Hotels downtown and across the Midlands are hoping those fans bring the money and excitement with them no matter whom they're rooting for at Colonial Life Arena.
Staff at Experience Columbia SC said the city is preparing for millions of dollars of economic impact from hotel rooms that are already booked.
“The impact from the NCAA rooms themselves is quite substantial. We have already booked over 3,000 hotel room nights,” said Executive Director of Experience Columbia SC Sports Scott Powers.
Those hotel room reservations are expected to bring three to four million dollars to Columbia alone, according to Powers.
Powers said the tournament games will benefit more than just downtown hotels.
“We feel certain there's hotel in the Harbison area, hotels in northeast Columbia, southeast Columbia, west Columbia, Cayce, Lexington. I think there will all be-- all the hotels in every district will be benefited by hosting this tournament,” Powers added.
Experience Columbia SC said they've not been tracking occupancy, because they expect reservations and interest to change after Selection Sunday.
But, the NCAA sent a warning email this week for hotels to be fully staffed on Selection Sunday night and Monday morning.
“Sunday night and Monday they need to be full staffed, they’re to expect more calls, more bookings, more cancellations in 24-hours than they’ve probably ever had before,” Powers said about the NCAA note.
It’s something David Erbacher with the Hyatt Place downtown said they're prepared for.
“We're kind of all ready, even though I'm in the sales department in a dungeon in the back, we're all ready to man the phones and be ready to answer any questions and book as many rooms as we possibly can and make sure guests are accommodated,” Erbacher said in his lobby on Friday.
The Hyatt Place will be a media-partner for the NCAA, but Erbacher said they do have some rooms open and waiting for fans that weekend.
Because the tournament weekend extends longer than a usual football Saturday, Erbacher said they'll be offering deals on food and drinks at the hotel. They'll also be offering drink specials themed to each team, once they're announced.
Experience Columbia SC has compiled a website listing all the events and hotels for that weekend, which you can explore here.
A quick look of downtown hotels on the travel site Kayak showed many hotels asking potential visitors to call and other hotels listed for several hundreds of dollars a night over that March weekend.
Tournament games will be March 22nd and 24th at Colonial Life Arena.
Selection Sunday will be March 17th on WLTX News 19 and that's when we'll find out who's coming to the capital city.