Friday, April 14, 2006

"Goodness, those GA hotels are classy,"

I thought as I looked over the list of GA hotels. I mean, check it out, y'all. We've got the Adams Mark, two different Renaissance hotels, the Holiday Inn, the Omni. And the prices top out at $130.

Now I think of these as very expensive hotels. $130 a night is probably a good deal.

But I'm a simple girl. I don't require much. Free wifi, clean sheets, maybe a hot tub someplace, and I'm happy. So I find myself asking, why do we have only the best hotels? And is there a better deal to be had in downtown St. Louis?

I'll take the second question first.

Of course there's a better deal to be had in St. Louis.

Even the most cursory search turns up several good hotels at much better prices.

The Econo Lodge Riverfront, for example, starts at 81 bucks per night and is .3 of a mile from the convention center hotels, making it forty dollars a night cheaper than many of the hotels the UUA reccomends.

Similarly, the Hampton Inn is $105 per night if you have AAA. It is only a quarter mile from the convention center.

If you're willing to drive in for fifteen miles every morning, you can stay for as little as forty bucks a night at the Super 8 out by the airport. The drive every day will suck, but even if you pay $10 a day to park at the Holiday Inn across the street from the convention center, you'll still save a bundle.

So why, you may ask, is the UUA only making deals with the expensive hotels. What makes it worth it to potentially exclude people who could almost attend, but would seriously need to cut costs?

Environmentalism.

The UUA has a long and detailed list of requirements. The requirements, intentionally or not, strongly favor the more expensive hotels. After all, the classy hotels already use china plates and serve organic foods, and they are used to kowtowing to weird demands from rich people. Older hotels that haven't been refurbished and still lack low-flow shower heads, and of course any places where one might be expected to handle a ketchup packet, are beneath our notice.

The UUA could have made two lists, hotels and hotels that get our environmental seal of approval. But we're too pure for that, so instead we assume that of course our members want to pay something like $200 extra for five nights to shower under less water. So we exclude any hotel that doesn't meet our standards.

And we wonder why we are a religion full of yuppie white people.

Sigh.

CC

Ps. Here's a hotel map of downtown St. Louis.

PPs. Boy in the Bands also notes that a new bus company will make it cheaper to get to GA from the midwest.

16 comments:

boyinthebands said...

I think you're swinging way off base here. GA hotel reservations have been like this long before the environmental standards were set.

Consider meeting space -- GA uses tons -- comp-ed or reduced in price as a part of a housing block contract.

Distance is another consideration. After your first GA stuck in the boonies, you'd hock your One True Love to be in a room that you can get to in five minutes or less. It is a very tiring experience. As you noted, the convention hotels are in a tight cluster. Cheap hotels offer a logistical nightmare, and I did not relish my long walks through the creepy-dead streets of Cleveland to get to my room at the Days Inn. Neither did I like the Mildew Palace I booked in Nashville. Here I should note I first met blogger Joseph Lyons (pre-Santos) when he was arranging young adult lodging for Spokane GA.

Chalicechick said...

I did warn people that staying out by the airport would suck.

And judging by this map, the Hampton Inn and the Econo Lodge are closer than some of the UUA's suggestions.

CC

Steve Caldwell said...

CC,

You are correct that one can find GA housing that is cheaper by going outside the GA recommended hotels.

The drawback to that is you have to weigh the benefits for the individual vs. the benefits for our wider association of congregations.

In exchange for free or lower-cost meeting space in the hotels that is used for GA workshops and GA social functions, the UUA agrees to reserve a block of rooms. If you as an individual go outside the GA reservations, the cost to the UUA is minimal. If you and a bunch of other folks go outside the GA reservation system, the UUA is left holding the bill for a bunch of unused room.

I suppose the staff and volunteers who work out these business arrangements for GA could decide to forgo reserving blocks of rooms to get this free/reduced-cost meeting space. However, that would probably increase the GA registration costs to cover meeting room space in the surrounding hotels.

One obvious way to reduce the costs for your GA trip is to find roommates for your trip. If you find a second roommate, your costs per night goes from $130 to $65 per night.

If you get the double bed room and share it with 3 other folks, your costs are now $32.50 per night.

Finally, the other overlooked costs for GA is food ... restaurant meals in downtown areas are very pricey. The food vendors at GA charge inflated airport prices for their food.

Since we drove from Shreveport to Ft Worth last summer for GA, we stocked our room with snacks, sodas, ramen noodles, fruit, etc. Since we had my daughter and a friend of hers sharing our room, I wanted to make sure that any potential penniless youth I had sponsored or any friends they ran into would have food if they needed it.

Have fun at GA!

Joel Monka said...

"In exchange for free or lower-cost meeting space in the hotels that is used for GA workshops and GA social functions, the UUA agrees to reserve a block of rooms. If you as an individual go outside the GA reservations, the cost to the UUA is minimal. If you and a bunch of other folks go outside the GA reservation system, the UUA is left holding the bill for a bunch of unused room."

Speaking as someone who has organized a fair number of conventions- granted, they were Star Trek conventions, but the process is the same- I know that the cheaper hotels will give you exactly the same deal as the expensive hotels. The UUA simply chooses to cut that deal with expensive hotels rather than less expensive ones, no doubt for the reasons CC stated.

"Distance is another consideration. After your first GA stuck in the boonies, you'd hock your One True Love to be in a room that you can get to in five minutes or less. It is a very tiring experience."

I have been to a number of industrial conventions where some company provided a shuttle bus service so people could stay at cheaper hotels and still have a pleasant convention experience. Surely someone in the UUA owns a van- or they can be rented cheaply enough- and a volunteer driver rustled up. At Star Trek conventions all kinds of labor is obtained merely by comping tickets- surely it wouldn't bankrupt the UUA to offer free tickets to someone willing to carpool the cheap hotels every morning and evening?

boyinthebands said...

Joel, the cheaper hotels may have the same room deals, but I have never seen one/them to have the density and volume of meeting space GA needs.

Of course, I'm not sure why GA has become the UU World's Fair, thus needing the space. Oh, that's a lie. It had to retools itself as "a place to go" because the voting assembly function of GA has all but dissapeared, so ironically there's less to do and more people attend.

Steve is right about the food. Some of these second-tier cities we use have dead or dysfunctional downtowns. Charlotte (1993) and to a lesser degree Rochester (1998?) had very few options if you didn't have a car or an expense account. (The latter wouldn't have helped much in Charlotte: there simply wasn't the capacity. So I lived for three days on little more than Coke from hotel vending machines, the nibblies in receptions, apples at the APF table, and -- Deo gratia! -- a lunch with my then-District Executive to talk about my seminary plans.) Ever since, I took several hours to find out every affordable food option within 20 minutes' walk of the convention center, including where the mom-n-pop groceries and drug stores are. (Boston GA was, of course, easy for food, but there was also a Trader Joes across the street. Bonus!) Google Maps should cut this task to a few minutes. If all else fails, you can call in pizzas. Also, if it looks like food will be hard to come by, hook up with friends and make meal dates. In retrospect, some GA dining experiences look like an episode of survivor.

Remembering St. Louis from 1999 (?) I think this is proabably going to be a hard-eating GA.

SC Universalist said...

Hmm, looking at various non-religious conventions Ive been to, I usually stay in the boonies - the disadvantage is that you are far from the action. Fine if you want to sleep and eat in quiet and reflection... not so fine, if you want the stimulation of 24 hour conversation (hey, does GA have 24 hour video rooms?)

Scott: I go to cons in charlotte yearly, and you will be happy to know that the downtown area has added lots of eating places that are open on the weekend now!(although i wont swear there is enough of them) While I didnt go to GA there, I certainly recall seeing domino delivery folks going up to rooms as the main food choice in downtown in the early 1990s....
I also recall seeing hour long lines at Wendys in Atlanta during conventions.....

CK said...

Hey, I live in STL and go to First UU St. Louis, which is in the Central West End (not downtown, but in the city).

I would say that renting a car in St. Louis is probably worth your money--unless you're really familiar with our Metro system, which isn't that great. It will, however, get you from the airport to downtown and various stops along the way--so if you stay out by the airport, you don't have to rent a car.

However, I have to disagree with boyinthebands on St. Louis. We used to have a "dead or dysfunctional downtown", but it is reviving. Some places for you to eat are along Washington Ave, which isn't directly by the convention center, but close. The Central West End has great eats (and an independent bookstore, Left Bank Books), and the Metro will get you between downtown and there.

Go to saucecafe.com for a guide to our local cuisine.

I'd also suggest a Google map search of "resteraunt" outside of the convention center.

I'm tempted now to post a UU insider's guide to the city. I moved here from Maryland and was initially disappointed (comparing everything to "Back East"). But there are quite a few hidden secrets. Last night I had Persian food, and regularly have Spanish tapas or Latin American fusion tapas (I like tapas), Greek, Thai, Vietnamese, etc.

CK said...

Oh, and in the Central West End is a Best Western, the Chase Park Plaza (kinda pricey), and another one by Barnes Jewish Hospital--the Parkway Hotel. All of these are close to the MetroLink, which does run to downtown. And you've got, within walking distance, a really nice neighborhood (during the day--don't wander at night) with food and coffee shops and stores.

http://stlouis.missouri.org/cwe/

(Oh, and search for "restaurant" instead of "resteraunt" :)

CK said...

Hey, I put up a small guide on my blog. Hope it's useful. Also put up an invite for a bloggy meetup at a coffee shop. If anyone's game, leave a comment and I can try to facilitate someplace fun in STL. Last comment, I swear!

Clyde Grubbs said...

The UUA GA planning office works with the Convention Bureau's to get hotels, they don't contract with hotels themselves. The hotels then give rooms for meetings as Scott indicates.

They need to book so many rooms in order to break even. After that number there are no rooms and folks who register to late are going to book in other hotels, dorms, hostels, etc. They figure how many will do this any ways...to save money, because they hate hotels. At one or two GAs the planning committee didn't figure correctly, and guilt tripped folks who were making their own reservations. Boston had thousands of commutters, why stay in a hotel if you live in Framingham? So we lost some money.

But in most cases if one checks around one can find a hotel that meets the budget and usually the official hotels are booked by people who like the convenience and will pay for the privilege, or have expense accounts, or who married rich. The planning office doesn't guilt trip people when they get their rooms booked. Somehow I feel they need to make better estimates....Quebec City had lovely mansions, why stay in hotel...for example. So they had lots of unbooked rooms at the big fancy hotel a mile away and made the UUA staff stay there--the staff would have prefered being across from the convention center. Bad planning.

I have known some folks who stay in the boonies on principle...small hotels use less power and therefore are environmentally friendlier they have told me.

In an another life I would stay far away, I have been sleepless in too many cities.

PeaceBang said...

CK, which of your blogs are the tips on? I am trying to organize a bloggers dinner at GA and I LOVE TAPAS!

Thanks for bringing up the hotel issue, CC. As for me, I have two requirements: (1) I have to be close enough to the action so that I can easily pop back to the room for a nap, and to drop off materials and (2) the hotel bar has to serve Ketel One.

I've done the outlying hotels often enough to feel it's well worth the price to stay at the classier joints. After a year in the salt mines of ministry, I don't want to GA to be any more of an exhausting week-long trial than it has to be.

Kim said...

When we went to GA in Boston, we stayed in a dorm. Very minimal, lots of space, took the subway. When we went to Long Beach GA, we stayed in the hotel it was in.
No dorms in St. Louis?

boyinthebands said...

When the UU Christian Fellowship had its Revival in St. Louis, the dorm accomodation was at the Eden Theological Seminary, but those who drove shuttled those who didn't.

But it is a long way out.

http://maps.google.com/maps?daddr=475+E+Lockwood+Ave,+Webster+Groves,+MO+63119+(Eden+Theological+Seminary:+Main+Office)+%4038.591438,-90.344590&saddr=701+Convention+Plaza+St.+Louis,+Missouri+63101&f=li&hl=en&dq=Eden+Theological+Seminary+loc:+701+Convention+Plaza+St.+Louis,+Missouri+63101&cid=38631786,-90189319,15781490915756216357

Steve Caldwell said...

Walking distance hotels can be very handy if you're sponsoring Youth Caucus attendees at GA. One of the requirements for sponsors is that they stay in the same hotel or housing as the youth they are sponsoring (this does not mean the same room ... just the same hotel).

Walking distance means that any youth you are sponsoring will have an easier time traveling to and from GA events. This is good for your peace of mind if you're sponsoring a youth.

All of the requirements for being a Youth Caucus sponsor at GA are listed on the online GA FAQ:

http://www.uua.org/ga/faq.html

indrax said...

I stayed at a cheap hotel in St. Louis once.
The bed was nicely made, but there was a condom wrapper on the pillow.

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