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Atlanta Hoists Starting Gun for Olympic Ticket Sales : Bookings: One system will handle events as well as most lodgings. Organizers will limit rates lodgings can charge.

TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

It may seem a little early to think about where you’ll be sitting on July 19, 1996. But if the seat you have in mind is at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, you’re right to start scheming now. The international organizations and Georgia state officials have put together an elaborate centralized system to handle not only tickets but most lodgings, and organizers expect activity to start heating up now.

“This is the time,” says Marty Barnes of RSVP GRITS, an Atlanta-based bed-and-breakfast booking service.

The Games will run July 19-Aug. 4, 1996, with various cultural celebrations to continue for about seven weeks after the close of the athletic competition. Most events will be in the Olympic Ring (in downtown Atlanta) and Stone Mountain Park (25 miles east of downtown), but the list of venues also includes Savannah, Columbus and Athens, Ga., and the Ocoee River (southeast Tennessee), with preliminary soccer matches scheduled in Birmingham, Miami, Orlando and Washington, D.C.

Tickets: Organizers say about 11 million tickets will be available for the Games, at prices from $6 to $250 each for athletic events, $200 to $600 for opening and closing ceremonies. The average price has been estimated at about $40 per event, with 95% of tickets running $75 each or less.

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Direct-mail sales, which will be conducted by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (also known as ACOG), are to begin May 1. Purchasers will make their decisions based on a 48-page ticket-request brochure (which will include a complete schedule) that is to be publicly released that day at selected retail outlets nationwide. (Those outlets are to be named in coming weeks.) For events for which the number of tickets ordered between May 1 and June 30 exceeds the supply, organizers plan to distribute seats through a “FairTix” lottery. (Those who get seats are to receive written notification this fall.)

In a second phase of sales that is expected to begin in January, 1996, remaining tickets will be available over the phone through a toll-free 800 number. All tickets are to be shipped to buyers in mid-1996. Olympic event ticket sales are expected to bring in $261.2 million.

Updates of ticket information will be available from ACOG at (404) 744-1996.

Lodging: The good news is that state leaders have taken extraordinary steps in the effort to prevent price-gouging. A state commission was established to limit the rates that lodgings can charge. During the ’96 Games, officials say, lodgings asking $100 per night or more will be limited to charging their 1994 rates, plus twice the average annual increase in the consumer price index. Thus, assuming an annual inflation rate of 3%, a hotel room that went for $100 nightly last year can be rented for no more than $106 during the Games. To enforce the limit, the state has reserved the right to levy fines of up to $1,000 per room per night. (Limits are more lax on lodgings with rates under $100 night.)

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The bad news is that rooms will be scarce at any central hotel. Of roughly 53,000 hotel rooms within a 20-mile radius of the Olympic Center in downtown Atlanta, ACOG officials say they are holding aside about 35,000 as part of their Host Hotel Network. Most of those will go to international dignitaries and media, but no one knows yet exactly how many. (In most cases, ACOG takes 80% of a hotel’s rooms and leaves the hoteliers to handle the other 20% as they wish, and also gives hoteliers a high priority for tickets as a reward for cooperating.)

In fall of this year, ACOG officials plan to make available to the public the leftover rooms among those they have held aside. There are another 20,000 hotel rooms within a 90-minute drive of the Olympic Center, and those may be more reasonable targets.

Given the situation, alternative housing--from private houses to state campgrounds--will be crucial, and here, too, ACOG has a centralized plan. The committee has set up a network of family residences, apartments and condominiums known as Private Housing 1996 (404-455-0081).

A standard one-bedroom apartment will rent for $5,550 for a month; a deluxe two-bedroom apartment, $6,000. Rates on houses are determined by the property’s sale value. A single room in a two-bedroom home worth less than $110,000 will run $1,440 for six nights. A four-bedroom home worth $400,000-$600,000 will fetch $425 per bedroom per night.

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Another option is bed-and-breakfast operations such as RSVP GRITS (800-823-7787 or 404-843-3933). GRITS, which stands for Great Reservations in the South, handles bookings for 37 bed-and-breakfast operations in and around Atlanta, and this month started taking Olympic reservations at $95 nightly and up.

Marty Barnes, director of RSVP GRITS, suggests that travelers focus on neighboring counties because so many hotel and bed-and-breakfast managers in Atlanta proper and Fulton County are either already committed or holding out for high-paying corporate clients.

One unofficial source on lodging options and other subtleties of the Games is “The Atlanta Advantage” (P.O. Box 605, Aurora, Ohio 44202; subscriptions $39 per year), a newsletter published every other month by Ray N. Olsen of Aurora, Ohio, with Olympic traveler-spectators in mind. (Its first issue, in December, included a 10-page survey of housing options and costs.)

Reynolds travels anonymously at the newspaper’s expense, accepting no special discounts or subsidized trips. To reach him, write Travel Insider, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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