Is Vail’s lodging occupancy dip for Christmas week affecting other businesses in town?
Vail's lodges may not see 80% occupancy for Christmas week
Lodging occupancy for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day looks like it will be down from the record-setting numbers of 2021. But the impact is uncertain from that dip.
Drew Riley is an owner of longtime Vail Village restaurants Russell’s and Los Amigos.
- $764: Average daily rate for Vail lodging this winter season
- $698: Average daily rate for the 2021-22 season.
- 70%: Approximate Vail lodging occupancy for the week ending Dec. 16.
- 78%: Anticipated Vail lodging occupancy for the week beginning Dec. 25.
- Source: Mark Herron, local lodging consultant
Riley said Russell’s is full virtually every night, thanks to a loyal clientele of locals and visitors. That restaurant can only serve about 230 people per night, so reservations fill fast.
On the other hand, Los Amigos is down from last year, Riley said. But, he added, “business isn’t bad by any means. Last year was so busy.”
Riley noted that Vail set tax revenue records for most of the 2021-22 ski season. That simply isn’t sustainable, he noted.
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Still, there are fewer people in the valley for this holiday season.
Mark Herron, a veteran of the valley’s lodging business and currently a consultant, said he recently took a straw poll of 10 select Vail lodges.
Lodging numbers have had a “tremendous gain” in the past couple of weeks, Herron said, due at least in part to continuing early-season snow. Before that, lodging numbers for the season were significantly off from numbers recorded a year ago.
School breaks a factor
Even with the December surge, Vail is still off the previous year’s room nights.
Part of the reason for the decline could be the way school breaks fall for many families.
Many school breaks didn’t begin until the end of Dec. 23. Those breaks will then continue into the first week of the new year.
Tom Foley of Destimetrics, part of the Business Intelligence division of Inntopia, said while there were as many as 40% fewer families traveling the week before Christmas, school breaks stretching into January create an opportunity to pick up some occupancy during that period.
But, Herron said, he wonders how eager local lodges are to see maximum occupancy.
“You’ve got to wonder how much (of the dip) is intentional,’ Herron said, adding that higher daily rates can keep revenue coming in while the businesses are still short-handed.
While Herron is worried about retail and restaurant performance, a couple of local shops say they aren’t yet seeing business impacts from fewer people in town.
At the Squash Blossom in Vail Village, store manager Jason Leach said he has seen “no appreciable difference” due to fewer people in lodges. While recent cold weather may have kept more people in the village than on the mountain, Leach said the Squash Blossom will have a better 2022 than the year before.
At Lionshead Liquor, manager Trevor Robbins said he hadn’t noticed any appreciable change in business.
“We’re grateful for our locals, so we’ll always have a strong core,” Robbins said. But, he noted, “the jury’s still out” on holiday business.
And holiday business is just part of a long season.
Seasons aren’t lost in December
“Seasons are won and lost in January, February and March,” Foley said. And advance bookings for those months are a “mixed bag,” he added.
And, Herron said, current occupancy raises an increasingly important question for Vail — “Who do we want to be?”
Herron noted that some in Vail are pushing for a more exclusive visitor base.
“But does that work for everybody? Maybe it doesn’t,” he said.
Still, while this year is down from 2021, both that year and 2020 were outliers in different ways.
“We’re just going back to what the averages are,” Herron said. “We’re slightly behind the average for December, … but we still have plenty of time to catch up.”