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Price-gouging or supply and demand? Ironman Alaska competitors struggle with accommodation

Juneau residents offer space in homes after Ironman sponsor Alaska Airlines offers discounts on flights during race week

Photo by: Getty Images

“Greetings! We verified that the accommodation made a mistake when registering their rates online, impacting your booking.”

It’s an email no one wants to receive in advance of an Ironman race, one in which you’ve already invested at least $3,000 in registration and airfare so far. Now your hotel reservation at a hotel in Juneau, due to an “error” is practically doubling your nightly rate. All other hotels are sold out, and all Air BnBs are booked. It’s an email dozens of athletes received. As you might have guessed, there was no error; this is price-gouging at its finest. Pay the new rate – more than $400 per night for a modest motel room — or you have no place to stay.

If it were any other Ironman event, athletes could simply resolve to stay further away and drive in the day of the race. That’s not an option in Juneau, which cannot be reached by road – only by air or sea.

Related: Ironman heads to Alaska

Athletes registered for the inaugural Ironman Alaska, which made it to the Final Four of Ironman’s “Bucket List Bracket” last March even though it hasn’t happened yet, also report canceled Air BnB bookings, only to see the same property re-listed at a higher rate. One comment on the Ironman Alaska Facebook page sums it up: “Very frustrated that the only places I’ve found so far are 5 to 6 times more expensive than they are the week before or after… Figures people would cash in, but I can’t afford to pay $5,000 a week for an Airbnb studio…”

With 1,500 registered athletes and an estimated 1,300 available hotel rooms, the math is not in the athlete’s favour. And at this point, two months out from the race, all hotels are booked, and there’s a total of 9 available Air BnB properties, none listed for less than $1,000 per night.

To help solve the accommodation issue, Ironman sponsor Alaska Airlines has offered Juneau residents a 20 per cent discount on flights during the Ironman period. And many residents have stepped up to offer space in their homes for visiting athletes – at a price – on a grassroots thread on the Ironman Alaska Facebook page for the race. And, of course, many hoteliers and Air BnBs did not cancel bookings or raise rates. Some locals have blasted the businesses and people that are price-gouging, asserting that this is not the welcoming attitude Alaska is known for.

At this point, it does seem that most athletes have found housing, but they are now preparing to face another shortage: Every rental car in Juneau is booked, and athletes are now stuck pondering how they’ll get their enormous bike box from the airport to their overpriced accommodation.

Logistics like these for any new event are no doubt challenging. We’ll report back after Ironman Alaska takes place in August on how smoothly the event went overall.

Below: Remaining Air BnB properties cost at least $1,000 per night before taxes and fees.