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Latest reservation data shows some encouraging news

Julie Sutor
Vail, CO, Colorado

Tourism analysts: ‘We’re in stabilizing mode’

Mountain tourism is having another tough year, but there are a few glimmers of hope for the future

By Julie Sutor

summit daily news

DENVER – The 2009-2010 mountain tourism season has proven to be about as anemic as last winter’s, but there are some signs of more robust visitor activity on the horizon, according to new data released Wednesday by industry analysts.

Lodging reservations and occupancy in mountain resorts continued to edge up through Jan. 31, but still remain slightly behind last year’s disappointing figures, according to the Mountain Travel Research Program, a Denver-based company that tracks mountain travel trends.

Actual winter occupancy through Jan. 31 is down 1 percent from last season. The picture has grown a little rosier over the last month: Through Dec. 31, lodging occupancy was down 3 percent from the previous season.

The latest data is the result of a survey of 201 property-management companies in 15 destination mountain communities, representing 22,000 rooms across Colorado, Utah, California and British Columbia.

Reservations taken in January for the next six months were up 9.5 percent, compared to January 2009, the strongest pace seen in the last three months. The report revealed another sign of progress in January, as it became the first month since April 2009 that actual occupancy increased compared to the same month the previous year.

“These are the first non-red numbers we’ve seen in a long time,” said industry analyst Carl Ribaudo of Lake Tahoe-based Strategic Marketing Group. “And March is beginning to look good.”

Ribaudo said there’s a chance that a strong spring could compensate for a weak winter.

“It’s been a very challenging winter. It’s not as bad as last year but it looks like we’re in a stabilizing mode going forward,” Ribaudo said.

The report identified several economic indicators that may have contributed to January’s improved figures. The unemployment rate dropped to 9.7 percent, and the Consumer Confidence Index rose 4.3 percent.

“Confidence is a key piece of people’s decision-making. If people are confident about tomorrow, they’re more likely to travel today,” Ribaudo said.

The current numbers come at roughly the halfway point of this ski season.

“When comparing this year to previous years, our analysis showed that, as of Jan. 31, approximately 40 percent of winter guests have already come and gone, 40 percent have made their reservations, but the final 20 percent is still up in the air,” said MTRiP director Ralf Garrison. “So, second-half strategies can determine the outcome of the game and the season.”

Bookings for February are up 2.4 percent compared to February 2009. The trend for last-minute booking appears to remain in effect – the next two months are strengthening, but reservations and bookings beyond March are still relatively weak.

“Consumers are still very much pessimistic, and they know everything is on sale, even if you don’t ask for it,” analyst Greg Dunn of Y Partnership said of the national travel scene.

Dunn and Ribaudo said there have been shifts in the way people spend money, and the changes may be long-lasting. Affluent travelers are shying away from ostentatious displays of wealth, which may blunt people’s impulses to vacation in glitzy locales or purchase luxury items like super-pricey bottles of wine.

Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or jsutor@summitdaily.com.


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