Hotel reservations have picked up in recent weeks, although December is still down
VAIL - Pre-Christmas Decembers resort bookings around the valley are down compared to last year, a statistic that even recent snowfall couldn't reverse.
With a laundry list of factors ranging from a so-called snow hangover last season to worries about the fiscal cliff to a slow start to early season snowfall, it's hard for those who watch these sort of trends to put their fingers on the problem.
Chris Romer, executive director at the Vail Valley Partnership, said volume through the group's site vailonsale.com and Web traffic in general increased 500 percent once early December snowstorms arrived.
"It just exploded," Romer said. "We went from Web volume and bookings being at a relatively slow pace to a huge influx this week. I would attribute it to the snow and also to Snow Daze and the 50th anniversary."
That explosion in interest is for the entire season, however, with some bookings coming in for December short-term stays, but most coming in for stays later in the season.
"The customer is savvy. They have the ability to wait," Romer said. "With all the different tools out there - opensnow.com, web cams - there are no secrets. Once we got the snow, it moved people from the sidelines."
At the Mountain Travel Research Project in Denver, Director Ralf Garrison is seeing an unchanged storyline in terms of the development of the winter season. He said the recent snow in Colorado has been helpful, but it certainly hasn't been a game-changer. He called the snow "enough for a good attitudinal high for locals."
"That said, there has been a modest pop of reservations in the last 10 days directly related to snow," Garrison said. "It has filled in some of the reservation activity in mid-December, but it's too little, too late to make significant changes for the month. It bodes better for the rest of the season."
Romer points toward poor Christmas timing - Christmas falls on a Tuesday - as part of the reason December has struggled this season. Because the holiday falls on a Tuesday, Romer said schools are still in session the week prior, when typically students get that week off.
And because most families plan their vacations around school holidays, the timing of Christmas this year "inherently reduces the demand," Romer said.
Garrison agrees the student breaks play a role in the so-called week-before-Christmas divot, but he said it appears to be a marginal contributor. He points more to a combination of factors accounting for the lack of early-season momentum.
The week between Christmas and New Year's Day is historically one of the busiest weeks in town and will continue to be this year, Romer said. He said that week is on pace to "be as good as anything we've seen."
Something does appear to be happening later in the season more than is happening in December, Garrison said, and it seems to be snow-related.
"A destination guest who is reluctant from last year's hangover and has not yet gotten a positive snow message about this year is just booking later for insurance purposes," Garrison said.
Garrison said later in the season has always been the best bet for vacationers worried about snow. Because resorts have great snowmaking systems and their marketers are so good at pushing the early-season holiday business, people are led to believe that the ski season begins in November.
"But most of the time, natural snow is not consistent enough or plentiful enough for good skiing before Christmas," Garrison said. "We really shouldn't be expecting significant amounts of natural snow until about this time anyway."
With snow that fell during the weekend and more in the forecast for next week, all the signs are pointing toward a positive message during a critical time of the year.
"We have to see weather continuing to be positive and guests at Christmas have to communicate that positive message," Garrison said. "That's increasingly true during each of the last several seasons - the messaging coming from customers in the resort early in the year has more to do with momentum later in the year."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.