Bookings solid for March, soft for April
VAIL, Colorado – Mike Oprish is a happy man today. If he’d come to Vail a year earlier, that might not be the case.Oprish is the general manager of The Sebastian in Vail Village. The hotel – formerly the Vail Plaza – was purchased in early 2010 by Ferruco Vail Ventures, a family-run investment group based Mexico City. The new owners renovated the hotel, renamed it and re-opened in time for ski season.It turned out to be the right season. Snow fell early and often, and skiers came to the mountains to play.”March has been fantastic,” Oprish said. “We’ve been really pleased.”On the west end of town, Kirsten Texler of the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa told the same story.”We’re so pleased with the spring so far – we’re just cranking,” Texler said. “Compared with last spring, we’re just alive. I’ve even seen a couple of short lift lines here, and we never have lift lines.”Texler said along with guests has come at least a slight rebound in the average daily rate, a number examined intensely by those in the lodging business. “Heads in beds” is important, but so is how much they’re paying.Still, Texler said, travelers continue looking for deals. At resorts like Vail, “discount” is rarely said out loud – “We didn’t want to see people coming once for the discount and then never coming back,” Texler said.Instead, people in the lodging business talk about “value,” which usually comes in the form of special packages. At the Vail Cascade this spring, a four-night stay comes with a $500 resort credit that can be used on everything from meals and drinks to fitness classes and merchandise.Oprish said “value” at The Sebastian is based on service and exceeding guests’ expectations, but added that guests can get either free lift tickets or spa treatments when they book a stay.Whatever form it takes, “value” is a critical part of making a sale these days, said Chris Romer, executive director of the Vail Valley Partnership, which handles much of the valley’s reservations business. Besides value, Romer said events are a crucial part of booking guests, especially early and late in the ski season, when just counting on snow can be risky.”Booking trends for early and late season tend to be much closer to arrival dates,” Romer said. That means events are an important draw to the valley, especially for those driving up from the Front Range.Those events are even more important this spring, thanks to a quirk of the Christian calendar. Easter can fall between March 22 and April 25. This year’s Easter – April 24 – is as late as the holiday has been since 1859. Both Oprish and Texler said Easter is week is filling in, and Oprish added that families from Mexico and other Latin American countries seem to be coming as they have in years past. But there’s still a few weeks on the spring calendar between the traditional spring break weeks and Easter.This year, those are being filled with events including Taste of Vail, the Vail Film Festival and the annual Spring Back to Vail concerts.”This year Spring Back is two weeks instead of one, and that’s a good move,” Romer said. But weather elsewhere plays a role, and one sometimes events can’t overcome. Romer said that summer-like weather on the Front Range can get people out of their winter habits.”When (Denver has) those huge spring storms, people stay in their winter sports modes,” Romer said. “When they have an early summer, it’s not so easy.”That makes creative thinking even more important. Vail Resorts this year has also started an on-mountain Spanish-language kids’ camp that has the potential to become a powerful draw for families, Romer said.”We should be pretty proud of what we’ve done this winter,” Romer said. “But we still need to work hard over the next six weeks or so. Then, when April 25 rolls around, everyone should take a moment to say ‘We’ve done a good job,’ – and then try to focus on the summer.”Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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