Obama’s inauguration brings booming business to US capital

November 14th, 2008 - 9:13 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Nov 14 (DPA) Ticket scalpers, hotels, airlines, bus services and some Washington residents are quickly cashing in on the unprecedented interest in Barack Obama’s inauguration on Jan 20, 2009.An overwhelming demand for tickets to the swearing-in ceremony of the 44th president of the United States - even 70 days before the event - has proved to be a boon for scalpers, with some trying to sell them for $20,000 and up on the internet.

There will be 250,000 tickets available to the highly anticipated, once-in-a-lifetime occasion. The tickets are actually free, but hard to get hold of. They can be obtained from members of Congress or US Senators, whose offices have been flooded with requests ever since Obama’s historic election victory last week.

The demand far exceeds the supply. Officials are expecting more than 1.2 million people - the number who attended president Lyndon B Johnson’s inauguration in 1965, with even the standing-room areas full up, the Washington Post reported.

The office of Eleanor Holmes Norton, who serves the city of Washington in Congress, has been inundated with phone calls, with 3,000 in the last few days alone, prompting her to to issue a statement on her website: “Because of the high demand for tickets, this office can no longer take names … please do not call or email our office concerning inauguration events.”

It’s easy to see why ticket brokers are trying to reap early benefits, with one asking for $20,095 for a single ticket, CNN reported. The tickets will only be distributed a week before the inauguration. The middlemen usually get them from government employees, but can give no guarantees as it will be challenging to keep pace with the huge demand.

“Any website or ticket broker claiming that they have inaugural tickets is simply not telling the truth,” said Howard Gantman, staff director for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, in a cautionary note on the official website for the inauguration.

“We urge the public to view any offers of tickets for sale with great scepticism,” he said.

Senator Dianne Feinstein said Monday she was drafting legislation to make the sale of inauguration tickets illegal. “We have heard reports that there are people trying to scalp inaugural tickets for more than $40,000 each,” she said in a statement. “This is unconscionable and must not be allowed.”

Accompanying the desperate bid for tickets are soaring fares for buses and planes into Washington that week. One carrier reported a 200-percent jump in bookings, the Post reported. A recent airfare on the internet for a Chicago-Washington ticket was $1,500.

With many hotels already fully booked, people are turning to websites such as Craigslist to rent apartments, or even just a room. Prices are already in the range of $500 to $10,000 for inauguration week.

An advertisement for a one-bedroom downtown condominium from Jan 16 to 23, 2009 urging potential renters to “be a part of this historic moment” was going for $10,000.

Another apartment, apparently “steps from the US Capitol” was advertised at $1,000 a night.

One innovative post on Craigslist was from a college student without a ticket to the inauguration who was willing to rent accommodation for $500.

“If you can get me two tickets to the inauguration, I will let you have my bed for the weekend (I will take the floor or find another place to stay). Please only inquire if you look college aged (or else you wouldn’t be able to sneak into the dorm),” the post said.

Given the crush of people and the uncertainty of getting anywhere close to the action, Holmes Norton had the best possible advice: “The only people sure to get a view of the parade and the swearing-in are the people who watch it on television in the comfort of their homes.”

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