Early winter reservations picture is rosy
EAGLE COUNTY — With summer barely in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead, past the days the last aspen leaves have fallen and toward the days when our showers bring snow, not rain. It’s still early, but winter business seems to be shaping up nicely.
A recent report from DestiMetrics, a Denver area consulting firm, looks at booking data several months ahead — in this case, into February. That early look is encouraging. Across the region, winter occupancy is up 8.7 percent for November through February. Gains are being reported in each of those months. Better news is that revenue based on those bookings is up 18.9 percent compared to the same period a year ago. DestiMetrics’ report includes the Vail Valley, of course. While only about one-third of winter reservations are on the books already, a quick look at early trends in the valley gives cause for optimism.
Showing some Strength
The Vail Valley Partnership tracks bookings at local lodges, and handles many of those reservations through its own systems. Partnership CEO Chris Romer said the partnership’s numbers are showing some strength looking into the winter.
Romer said reservations for the few weeks between Vail and Beaver Creek’s opening days and Dec. 20 are running a bit ahead of the same period in 2013. The Christmas and New Year’s holidays will be booked solid, as they always are. Christmas and New Year’s Day both fall on Thursday this season, something Romer said will help drive visitation over the two long weekends.
But even the weeks after Christmas are looking good right now, he said.
That early strength for January — usually a somewhat slow time in the season — is being fueled in part by more group reservations and international bookings.
Many groups are coming in January because of reservations made for teams, sponsors and media during the first two weeks of February, for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
At the Four Seasons hotel in Vail, general manager Mark Herron said there are fewer days available for those groups this season, so groups that book at that property are picking dates before and after the championships. Herron said the Four Seasons is already 80 to 85 percent booked for much of January.
The situation is similar at The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon. There, general manager Jeff Burrell said that hotel’s early reservations are pacing ahead of last season’s pace.
‘Proceeding with Caution’
While the early reservations news is good, Herron said the Four Seasons is “proceeding with caution,” and still working its promotional plans for the coming season. Herron was in Whistler in 2010, when the Winter Olympics came to Canada. During those weeks, Whistler’s hotel occupancy was only about 65 percent. That was due to a few factors, Herron said.
Near the top of the list was “event avoidance.” That syndrome reflects the old Yogi Berra saying, “That restaurant’s so popular nobody goes there.” Herron said a lot of potential guests stayed away because they thought they wouldn’t be able to get rooms, or tickets to events, or wouldn’t be able to ski at Whistler. In fact, Olympic organizers paid Intrawest, the company that then ran Whistler, to help cover possible losses in business while the games were in the area.
Romer said the bookings in the first half of February — dominated as they are by championships traffic — might present an overly-rosy view of reservations.
Romer said the Partnership has taken the championships’ reservations out of its models to get a better idea of how reservations are actually tracking — the answer, by the way, is fine, considering how early it still is, and how slow early February usually is.
Need to be Smart
Romer said lodging managers and others need to be smart in order to continue to drive guest traffic to the mountains, and avoid the “can’t ski there” fear that often comes with big athletic events.
“We need to be concentrating on the message that less than 1 percent of Vail and less than 4 percent of Beaver Creek won’t be available for skiers,” Romer said.
Rather than being viewed as many view the Olympics, Romer said marketing needs to focus on the championships as an extra reason to come to the valley during what’s usually a relatively slow period.
Ultimately, of course, what will really drive room reservations is beyond human control. If it snows, lodges tend to fill up.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.
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