Are Vail tourists waiting for deals, or just waiting?
Vail, CO, Colorado
Are tourists waiting for deals, or just waiting?
Last-minute bookings booming for local lodges
By Scott N. Miller
Tourists are waiting to book their Vail Valley rooms this ski season. What’s less clear is whether they’re waiting for a deal, or just waiting.
On one side of the argument is Ralf Garrison, a partner in the Mountain Travel Research Project, a consulting company that tracks ski industry room reservations, occupancy and rates. He believes people are waiting for deals.
On the other is Chris Romer, the Vail Valley Partnership’s sales and marketing director, who says his evidence indicates that consumers are waiting to book for reasons that go beyond the last-minute price of a room.
“We’re teaching our customers bad habits,” Garrison said. “We would like to best reward our loyal guests, but we’ve been offering discounts to last-minute guests. We’re teaching them that the deal will be there, and consumers are learning real fast.”
Garrison’s opinions are based on his company’s research that shows people are booking vacations closer and closer to the time they actually travel.
A look at the region’s fall reservations numbers is instructive.
In October, reservations for the coming ski season were 22 percent off the same month in 2007. November showed a 25 percent decline from the year before. In December, though, people started booking rooms. The last month of the year ended up down just 7 percent from the year before. Most of those reservations, Garrison said, were for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
As rooms for Christmas stayed vacant in December, prices came down, and people booked rooms.
Garrison said December bookings were also driven by great snow and falling fuel prices, which made both air and auto travel cheaper.
“We don’t know yet if (tourists) can be lured in January through March or what will bring them.”
Romer has seen the same numbers, and believes the last-minute booking trend is about more than just deals.
The Vail Valley Partnership books a lot of reservations, so Romer sees most of the deals being offered. He said he’s seen several packages that offer discounts for March stays that are booked in January.
“People aren’t biting on them,” Romer said.
“I’d argue that consumer behavior is being dictated by uncertainty,” Romer added. “I don’t think they’re waiting for a deal, they’re waiting to decide whether they’ll take a vacation, or if they’ll take a ski vacation. Once the decision is made, then they look for deals.”
Besides its standard reservation center, the Vail Valley Partnership also runs the VailOnSale.com Web site. Site visits and bookings on that site ” which offers discounts for people booking three weeks ahead or less ” were up about one-third from December 2007 to December of last year.
“Consumer behavior right now is to wait, and that behavior is what it is,” Romer said. “We’re just reacting to it. And we’re seeing it in the entire travel industry, not just the ski industry.”
But, Garrison said, a big part of the business model for the ski industry is the ability to get people to pay full retail, as it were, for rooms during peak times during the ski season.
Over the last few months, Garrison said numbers for both reservations and average daily rates for rooms have been down from the 2007-08 season. Usually, dropping prices results in more reservations, so when rates and bookings both drop, it’s bad news.
“It usually takes time ” years, sometimes ” to get back on track,” Garrison said.
58 Percent increase in December bookings for rooms in December, 2008.
0.2 Percent decline in December reservations from 2007 for the Vail Valley.
7.1 Percent decline in December reservations throughout the Rockies.
30 Percent increase in page views and bookings at VailOnSale.com.