Some Ironman competitors still upset over hotel overbooking

Some Ironman competitors still upset over hotel overbooking

May 30th, 2014 by Shelly Bradbury in Business Around the Region

The Sheraton Read House is located at the corner of Broad Street and MLK Blvd. in Chattanooga

The Sheraton Read House is located at the...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Josh Tullis knows what it's like to bring three young kids to an Ironman.

His wife ran one last year in Florida. For that race, he booked a hotel right on the beach, right on the race course.

"So we were there to cheer when my wife left for the swimming, then we played on the beach for six hours while she did the bicycle, and when we anticipated her coming back, we were out there with cowbells to cheer," he said. "And then she went and ran a marathon. So then the kids are showered, dressed for bed when we go to the finish line to cheer for her again. That's the experience that everyone expects from an Ironman. And other venues have that."

That's what Tullis was planning on when he booked a room at the Sheraton Read House in downtown Chattanooga. But the hotel accidentally double-booked more than 100 rooms and only discovered the error a couple of weeks ago.

General manager Jen Prpich decided to bump the overbooked customers into other area hotels. Tullis initially ended up with a room 13 miles outside downtown.

"How do I get to the race venue? How do I take care of three kids on the street all day? Where do we park when I get there?" he asked. "All these problems completely go away when we did our homework to get a reservation downtown, and now they're completely unresolved."

Despite the Sheraton Read House's proclamation last week that all complaints regarding the overbooking mistake had been answered, the fallout continued this week as Ironman athletes and spectators scrambled to adjust their plans.

Some Sheraton customers, including Tullis, said they weren't even notified that they'd been booted until Monday and Tuesday this week.

"There are a bunch more people who are getting relocated this week," athlete Ohnor Sherman said Thursday. "I just got an email two days ago."

She said she wanted to be downtown because she's from Albany, N.Y., and unfamiliar with the city's roads, especially when some are closed for the Ironman course. She added that at the last Ironman she attended, the entire downtown was gridlocked.

"Nine miles isn't a big deal, but I'm concerned about getting in and out," she said.

Prpich said that the hotel started notifying overbooked customers last week and is working through complaints as they come in. On Wednesday, she said she did not have any current open complaints.

"Again, we're so sorry this happened, it certainly wasn't intentional," she said. "We definitely are taking each call very seriously and attempting to come up with a solution they're pleased with."

After calling the Sheraton a few times, Tullis was able to move to a room in the Chattanooga Choo Choo. Not as close as he'd like to be, but better than 13 miles away. But there are still athletes and spectators, like Sherman, who are still stuck in hotels that are too far away to be useful on race day.

"I'm not happy about it," Sherman said. "I'm a slower athlete, so it takes me a while to finish. I don't want my husband to be stuck for 16 or 17 hours without being able to get to and from his hotel to take a nap or get something to eat. Maybe it sounds cheesy, but that's really my concern."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or with tips and story ideas.