Lots of travelers expected for holiday | VailDaily.com

Lots of travelers expected for holiday

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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – The economy is still shaky, and gas prices are on the way up (again). But AAA Colorado is estimating more than 550,000 state residents are gearing up for a Labor Day road trip.

If the auto club’s estimates pan out, Labor Day traffic would be up by 3.2 percent over last year and would set a new high since the recession of 2008.

People in the travel business have long said that Americans tend to view travel as a right nearly on par with those guaranteed in the Constitution. Those same experts have also said Americans, at some point, would just say, in essence, “We’re going anyway.”

Those attitudes seem to have held true across the mountain-resort business throughout this summer.

“We’re watching summer mature in mountain resorts, and we’ve actually passed 2008 numbers this year,” said Ralf Garrison, co-founder of the Mountain Travel Research Program, a Denver-based tourism consulting firm.

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Garrison said he expects Labor Day to continue that trend toward increased business. And when business – and, thus, demand – increases, room rates tend to go up, as well. The AAA Colorado report indicates that prices for lodging have gone up an average of 4 percent at lodges that have earned the club’s “Three Diamond” rating.

But state averages often don’t apply to relatively small markets such as the Vail Valley. Rob LeVine, general manager of The Antlers at Vail, said prices from the Denver-area market can skew the average for the entire state, adding that his place hasn’t raised room rates in a few years.

Still, LeVine said he expects the lodge to be busy, if not full, over Labor Day. The Antlers, which is a condo complex, expects to have about one-third of its owners in town over the holiday weekend, and LeVine said the remaining units are filling up fast.

“I wish we could build more rooms,” said Scott Gubrud, director of sales and marketing at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek. Gubrud said that hotel is on track to fill up this Labor Day, as it did last year.

Those strong reservations seem to confirm the AAA report’s opinion that people don’t seem to be bothered much by economic conditions or the price of gas. Garrison agreed.

“The shock in fuel prices or economic news can be immediate,” Garrison said. “We haven’t had anything big or bad enough to change the trends.”

Those trends this summer have shown a broad range of people traveling, Garrison said, something he expects to continue despite kids returning to school just about everywhere.

“Families with kids make up a portion of the guests,” Garrison said. But, he added, people whose kids are out of school are still taking summer trips. Those people, predominantly people from the “baby boom” generation, travel deeper into the summer and tend to stay longer and spend more money when they travel, Garrison said.

While summer and winter are very different seasons when it comes to travelers’ behavior, LeVine said he’s seeing good news in advance bookings at The Antlers. That lodge has already booked nearly one-third of its budgeted winter business, LeVine said, a number virtually identical to the business on the books last year. Since ski bookings historically tend to be based on last year’s snowfall, that’s good news indeed.

“I’m pleasantly surprised,” LeVine said.

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