Is summer reservation dip just cyclical?
June 21, 2013
EAGLE COUNTY — The Vail Valley's summer business has been building quickly the past few years. This year may mark the end of that fast-growth era.
Since 2010, summer reservations have been building at double-digit rates of growth, especially in Vail. That has far outpaced the rest of the mountain resort industry. But according to the latest data from DestiMetrics, a Denver-based resort business consulting company, advance reservations in Vail were down 2 percent from the previous year as of May 31. That slight decline came while advance reservations at other resorts were growing.
That slight decline is showing up primarily in group business, since individual travelers tend to book rooms closer to their travel dates. Groups tend to book blocks of rooms further in advance of their travel dates.
Those groups are crucial to summer business. Leisure travelers tend to come to the valley on weekends. Groups, which tend to come on weekdays, help fill rooms.
And groups often fill a lot of rooms.
The Warrior Colorado Lacrosse Tournament in Vail this week brought 90 teams of youth players. With about 20 people per team, then adding in parents, coaches, friends and others, that's a few thousand people in local lodges during a work week.
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The youth tournament has been coming to Vail for 17 years now. Tournament director Mark Foster said he and other organizers have found a winning combination in Vail: proximity to Denver, an internationally-known destination and a lot of lodging options for families.
The Warrior Tournament isn't alone in its loyalty to Vail. The Colorado Municipal League — the state's association of town and city governments — used to have Vail on a three-year rotation. For the past few years, the group simply alternates between Breckenridge and Vail.
Next week's Vail Lacrosse Shootout — another group that puts a few thousand heads in beds — is in its 41st year in the Vail Valley. Rob LeVine, general manager of the Antlers Lodge in Vail, said other loyal groups include the Colorado Division of Youth Services, Colorado Works and other government-sponsored organizations.
While the valley has earned plenty of loyalty, others have outgrown the available facilities.
Chris Romer, CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, which handles much of the valley's reservation business, said groups that have moved to bigger facilities accounts for part of the dip in this year's summer reservations.
Part of the dip might also be due to quirks of companies' business cycles, Romer said. Another, less tangible, factor is weather. May 2012 was hot and dry in the mountains, but hotter and drier on the Front Range. May of this year was moist and cool around the state. People may have been less likely to book summer trips while wearing sweaters, Romer said.
Then there's the matter of advance booking. Kristen Pryor, sales and marketing manager at The Westin Riverfront Hotel and Spa in Avon, said that hotel has seen group business booking closer to planned travel dates.
Pryor said The Westin's May reservations reflected the same dip seen in the broader DestiMetrics survey.
"But groups have started to fill in this month," Pryor said.
While "group business" is often thought of as companies and associations, wedding parties count as groups, too. Pryor said The Westin has seen a slight decline in the size of wedding parties booking rooms. Scott Gubrud, the sales and marketing director of the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, said that hotel is also seeing a decline in the "size and scope" of its wedding business.
Pryor said she learned at a recent event with wedding planners that the dip in wedding business is being seen across the industry.
No matter the reason for the drop, people in the business aren't particularly worried.
While Pryor said that booking closer to arrival times makes forecasting more difficult, room nights for the summer seem to be filling in. And no one contacted for this story breathed the most dreaded in the resort lodging business — discounts.
Pryor said The Westin's "average daily rate" is about on average with last year and said she expected that rate to hold. Romer, who sees rates from across the valley, said prices are holding steady across the Vail Valley.
"There's no reason to believe anyone sees (the dip) as anything beyond the business cycle," Romer said.
With the first summer flight from Houston booked solid, and other events coming throughout the season, Romer said his expectation is that Vail will hit its goal of a 3 percent increase in occupancy this summer.
That's not a double-digit increase. But, Romer said, those big jumps can only last so long.
"It's just not sustainable," he said. "Still, there's a lot of optimism out there."
Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at email@example.com.