Will valley set lodging record this winter?
February 13, 2014
EAGLE COUNTY — There's just more than two months left in this ski season, but one part of the season's business is nearly complete — lodging reservations.
According to information from DestiMetrics, a Denver-area consulting firm that specializes in lodging and travel information, the vast majority of reservations for the current season are already on the books. What drives room bookings the rest of this season will depend on both snow and economic trends.
Ralf Garrison, DestiMetrics director, said that as of the end of January, more than half of this season's reservations had been "banked" — people had come, paid their bills and gone back home. Another 30 percent or so of available reservations are "on the books," Garrison said, meaning people have booked their rooms in anticipation of ski vacations in February, March and April.
That adds up to roughly 85 percent of the season's lodging business either in the bank or ready to arrive. Garrison estimated that by the end of the season, lodging occupancy in the Rocky Mountains would end up about 7 percent above the 2012-13 season.
In fact, Garrison said, many of the resorts in the western mountains — New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana — are very close to equaling their guest totals from the 2007-08, the past year before the nation dropped into a persistent economic slump.
During that slump, resorts attracted guests by cutting prices. Those prices are coming back as well. Garrison said that the "average daily rate" for resort lodging in the region is expected to rise by 10 percent or so in the current ski season.
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The resort rebound in Colorado has been fueled a couple of ways — by people who drive to ski and people who fly.
Drivers — from day skiers to Front Range residents who own condos at the resorts — are generally driven by snow. Generous snow at the end of the 2012-13 season, combined with abundant snowfall this season, has helped bring those people to the resorts.
DESTINATION GUESTS COVETED
But the people resorts covet are those who come from out of state, or, in growing numbers, from out of the country. Garrison said those guests — the ones who have already made their lodging reservations — stay longer and spend more. Those guests are largely influenced by broader economic factors, which have largely stabilized since the 2012 election.
"Destination" guests tend to fly in, although many have flown into the Vail area from Denver or the past few years. The Eagle County Regional Airport has seen falling passenger numbers since 2007, due largely to the loss of flights into the airport from large cities.
That trend has started to turn this season. Air Canada scheduled a Saturday flight from Toronto this season, and Delta and United airlines have both added service to Eagle County.
Greg Phillips, Eagle County aviation director, said the flight from Toronto has been successful so far, although the inbound flight tends to have more passengers than the one headed back to Canada. Phillips guessed that people flying in from Toronto usually don't stay a full week, sending people home via other cities.
Additional service from cities already served by Delta and United also has passenger numbers up for those airlines, Phillips said. On the other hand, total passenger numbers are down for the season so far, due in large part to the big storm that hit at the end of January. In all, January's numbers were down by 3,000 passengers over the same month in 2013, Phillips said.