Eagle County seeing glimpses of pent-up demand for travel
Demand is down, but phones are ringing at local hotels
- 159,000: Vehicles through the Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnels over Memorial Day weekend 2019.
- 119,000: Vehicles through the tunnels over Memorial Day weekend 2020.
- 12%: Percentage of normal reservation volume measured by Inntopia’s tracking of mountain resort lodging.
After a sudden stop in March and extended isolation, people may be ready to travel or play. But don’t expect a full-throttle return this summer.
Hotels in the valley on May 25 were able to take reservations from out-of-town guests. Before that, a handful of hotels were open to “essential” travel. Most shut down, and some remain so. The voicemail message for the Four Seasons Resort in Vail states that property is shut down until July 1.
The Evergreen Lodge in Vail is one of the properties open to essential guests. There, general manager Brian Butts said the hotel took advantage of the lighter business with projects including a pool remodel, recarpeting areas and lots of cleaning.
Since the hotel was open to more conventional reservations, Butts said people have been calling.
“Is it like normal? No, but people are calling,” Butts said, adding that the property just this week took a reservation for a week-long stay in one of the Evergreen’s condo units.
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At the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa in Avon, general manager Kristen Pryor said that “phones are ringing” for June and July reservations.
“I’m pleasantly surprised,” Pryor said.
The experience at the local hotels roughly mirrors what’s going on across the hotel industry.
Tom Foley is a senior vice president at DestiMetrics, a division of Inntopia. That firm tracks lodging reservations and revenue across 1,700 properties nationwide.
An encouraging stretch
Foley said that the trends the past three weeks have been encouraging. Right after the shutdown of much of the travel business, Inntopia was recording about 1,200 cancellations per day. The normal average is about 100 per day.
Bookings went negative for roughly six weeks, Foley said. The past three weeks have brought three consecutive weeks of increases.
“Consumers are returning to the marketplace,” Foley said. People are also booking rooms closer to the time they plan to travel. That time is coming down. At this point — acknowledging the possibility of further shocks to the economy — it looks like the lodging industry could be roughly on par with 2019 by late August or September. Butts and Pryor both said that seeing 40 to 50% of the business their hotels had last summer would count as a good season this year.
Part of the reticence to travel is economic, given the large job losses, furloughs or pay cuts in local, regional and national employment. Other are concerned about safety.
At the Evergreen, Butts said the lodge has implemented new procedures for both guest and employee safety. There are social distancing rules, of course, and employees are wearing masks, while guests are encouraged to do the same in common areas. Butts said procedures have changed for cleaning rooms, common areas and laundry facilities.
In addition, the Evergreen is spacing reservations. A room rented on Monday won’t go back into the inventory until Wednesday.
At the Westin, Pryor said that property has also implemented new policies and procedures for safety.
One of those policies is to let a room “rest” for between 24 and 48 hours before housekeepers even enter the space.
But demand is down
Foley said those procedures will impact occupancy, even if demand is there. And demand is down.
While there’s been growth over the past few weeks, Foley said reservation activity is currently running at about 12% of the pace set in 2019.
In addition to lodging, there’s a bit more traffic on the roads. But traffic is still significantly lower than it was last year. Memorial Day weekend traffic at the Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnels was roughly 25% lower than it was in 2019.
“We’ve never seen anything like that,” said Bob Wilson, the statewide communications director for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
But, Wilson added, officials expect to see traffic counts “creep up” through the summer.
Perhaps the biggest pent-up demand is in real estate.
Craig Denton of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Colorado Properties works from that firm’s Vail Village office. Denton said he’s seen interest in four new listings that aren’t yet in the Multiple Listing Service. And, he noted, the number of April and May contracts in Eagle and Gypsum Berkshire brokers equals the number written in 2019. For half of that two-month period, prospective buyers couldn’t take in-person tours of a home unless they’d already signed a purchase contract.
Denton said he’s heard the same story from brokers in other mountain resort markets.
And, he said, he’s receiving emails every day asking about summer-season rental availability.
Butts said some of the pent-up demand is coming from people who want to play, but still keep their distance.
“I think people are going to be social distancing by exploring on their own — hiking biking and gofling,” Butts said. “People still want to beat the heat, and they’ll come to the mountains.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com.
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