Starkville to reap benefits of high Thanksgiving travel

November 21, 2017 10:18:18 AM

Alex Holloway - [email protected]


More Americans are expected to travel for this Thanksgiving than any in the past dozen years. And with the Egg Bowl in town, Starkville may reap the benefits. 


According to the American Automobile Association's travel forecast for the holiday, nearly 51 million Americans will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday period, which starts Wednesday and runs through Sunday. The projection is a 3.3 increase over last year's Thanksgiving travel. 


AAA anticipates 89 percent of travelers -- 45.5 million -- will travel by road and 3.95 million will travel by air. 


This year, Starkville is hosting the Egg Bowl -- the annual rivalry football game between the Mississippi State University Bulldogs and the Ole Miss Rebels -- on Thanksgiving. The game will likely bring an influx of travelers who wouldn't come otherwise. 


Jordan Gillentine, general manager of La Quinta Inn on Highway 12, said the hotel has seen significantly more demand for Thanksgiving with the football game than it normally would for Thanksgiving. 


"It's surprising," Gillentine said. "Being on Thanksgiving, we were scared to see what might happen. The fear was that people would stay at home and do their normal Thanksgiving routine. We're seeing the opposite. Actually, there probably is a higher demand for this one day than the Alabama game, for comparison." 


Gillentine said La Quinta already has a waiting list for guests who are trying to find rooms for Wednesday and Thursday. 


He said the game is the big draw pulling people to Starkville, as the city doesn't normally see much travel in for Thanksgiving. La Quinta has 90 rooms and Gillentine said last year, without the Egg Bowl, the hotel was running at 45 to 50 percent occupancy for Thanksgiving. This year, the hotel will be full Wednesday and Thursday. 


The trend seems to be echoing what happened in 2013, the last time the Egg Bowl was held on Thanksgiving. 


"This will be our second Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving," Gillentine said. "The first one, if I recall, was pretty big as well. This one is shaping up to be as big or better." 


Similarly, a representative of the Hilton Garden Inn on Highway 12 said the hotel is expecting higher occupancy than usual for Thanksgiving, and the football game is having a "big effect" on the influx of people for the holiday. 


Sukie Mollendar, who owns Hotel Chester with her husband, David, said the downtown hotel is expecting to completely fill up for the game. Hotel Chester has 36 rooms and a full-service restaurant, The Beer Garden. 


Courtyard Marriott Assistant General Manager Jessica Kagan said the hotel's 104 rooms are sold out for Wednesday and Thursday. She noted occupancy drops off for the weekend, when for normal game weekends it rises on Friday and Saturday. 


Still, she said the Marriott is seeing a similar pattern to other hotels. Last year when the Egg Bowl was in Oxford, she said, the hotel was running at about 30 percent occupancy for Thanksgiving. 


Greater Starkville Development Partnership CEO Scott Maynard said the combination of the Egg Bowl and Thanksgiving is an economic opportunity for the city. 


"It provides benefits, not only for our retailers in town, but the hotels and restaurants that are going to be open as well," he said. "A lot of those (restaurants) will probably be open just because the game is in town, and because it's a night game as well, they expect to do additional business." 


The Partnership has compiled a list of restaurants that have confirmed they will be open for Thanksgiving. While more will likely be open, the ones that have confirmed it to the Partnership are: Bin 612; Bulldog Burger; Bully's Burgers and Wings; Central Station Grill; Dave's Darkhorse Tavern; Harvey's; Moe's Original BBQ; Mugshots; No Way Jose; The Pop Porium; and Ruby Tuesday. 


Maynard said the game could also translate into more shoppers at retailers for Black Friday. 


"We hope everyone who attends the game and spends the night gets up for a Black Friday bonanza and shops locally," he said.