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Inaugural visitors face premium prices

Marketplace Staff Nov 17, 2008

Inaugural visitors face premium prices

Marketplace Staff Nov 17, 2008

CORRECTION: This story incorrectly reported the amount Dean Berlin is charging campers in his backyard. Berlin is charging $20 a night.


Kai Ryssdal:
Twenty-four and a half million people tuned in to see the president-elect on “60 Minutes” last night. There won’t be quite as many in Washington for Barack Obama’s inauguration a couple of months from now. But it’s probably not for lack of interest.

Hotel rooms in the capital are already scarce. As are tickets for the swearing-in and the inaugural parade. Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer reports on how enterprising visitors and some DC residents are preparing for the big event.

Nancy Marshall Genzer:
If you want to get depressed, Google Washington hotels, inauguration. The good deals are gone. Unless you consider $50,000 for four nights at the Ritz Carlton a bargain. Some Washington residents are offering to rent or swap their places. And then there’s Dean Berlin.

Dean Berlin: The primo lot comes over here in the garden. The secondary lot can be a little bit closer to the compost heap.

Berlin wants to rent out his suburban Maryland backyard to campers. A hundred bucks a night, per tent. Now, inauguration day is January 20. Berlin featured a snowy picture of his backyard in his online ad to screen out the faint of heart. It worked. Two Alaskans responded. Sitting in his cozy dining room, Berlin is up front about the hard, cold ground rules.

Berlin: No extra amenities, limited bathroom facilities, no open fires and just the land and warm tea.

That doesn’t appeal to Nikki LaCompte. She’s a native of New Orleans, now living in Houston. She’s determined to get herself and her four kids to Washington for the inaugural. She doesn’t have any money, so in her online ad, she offered to cook Cajun favorites in exchange for Washington digs. But LaCompte says one Washington man had a very different idea. He wrote:

Nikki LaCompte: It seems that you have no problem with your children sleeping on the floor, and that would be great and you can sleep in the bed with me.

LaCompte made the mistake of telling her mother about that one.

LaCompte: She said, “Have you lost your mind?”

But even if LaCompte makes it to Washington, there’s another hurdle. She doesn’t have any inaugural tickets. Congress and members of the presidential inaugural committee will distribute about 240,000 tickets for Obama’s swearing in right beforehand. They’ve been swamped with ticket requests. The tickets are supposed to be free. But people who will get free tickets and want to sell them have already contacted online brokers. Senator Diane Feinstein was very upset when she heard reports the tickets were already going for $40,000.

Diane Feinstein: This isn’t an NFL football game. This is something that is very special. And so we believe the tickets should be free and not be scalped.

Feinstein is drafting legislation that would make it a crime to sell the free tickets. She asked Web sites to stop the ticket sales. EBay agreed. But Danny Matta hasn’t. He owns GreatSeats.com.

Danny Matta: Thank you for calling Great Seats. You’re looking to sell tickets on the Web site?

Matta is listing the tickets for about $500 to $1,700 apiece. He says Feinstein is stifling free enterprise.

Matta: You know, the American way is about being able to buy and sell anything that’s needed. We’re not out there specifically targeting it, but if somebody has a ticket to sell and offers it to us, we’re going to take that offer.

Members of the inaugural committee are thinking about adding more events to accommodate the crowds. If they require tickets, Matta will sell them, too.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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