November sees dip in lodging reservations
By the numbers
6.6 percent: Increase from the previous period in western U.S. mountain resort occupancy from November through May.
150: Days in the Vail Mountain’s 2016-17 season.
22: Weekends during that season.
728. Days between the 2016 and 2018 elections.
EAGLE COUNTY — We live in interesting times, which, in this case, means “uncertain.” That uncertainty is playing out in the pace of advance bookings at mountain resorts.
As of Oct. 31, the pace of room reservations for dates between Nov. 1 and May 31 at mountain resorts in the western U.S. was running ahead of the pace set the previous year. As of mid-November, that pace has slowed.
Destimetrics is a Denver-based research and consulting company that tracks lodging data for 19 resorts in the western U.S., including Vail and Beaver Creek. In a recent release, Destimetrics reported strong momentum for the coming winter season despite little snowfall and a fractious election season.
The region just logged its fifth consecutive record for summer reservations. That momentum, combined with a strengthening national economy, low fuel prices and snow equity — the memory of a good previous ski season — was generating good numbers for the lodging industry. As of Oct. 31, reserved occupancy had increased 6.6 percent from the data available on Oct. 31, 2015. Revenues were up more than 13 percent.
The pace of reservation meant that nearly half of the previous season’s room nights in the traditional market — hotels and condos — had been booked by Oct. 31. More than half of the previous season’s revenue was already on the books. Again, these are averages, and numbers at individual resorts can vary.
But averages can tell us about the state of the industry, and about emerging trends. One trend that could be shaping up is a slowdown in the pace of advance bookings.
Destimetrics this past week tabulated its reservation numbers for the first half of November. That early data shows a slowdown in the pace of advance lodging reservations. In fact, the slowdown has put the pace of November’s reservations behind that of 2015.
While the dip has been noted, Destimetrics principal Ralf Garrison said it’s too early to discern solid reasons for it.
There are educated guesses, of course.
Snow is an easy guess, given delays in resort openings across Colorado and the west. But, Garrison said, destination guests — those who fly in from other states or countries — don’t usually follow week-to-week weather patterns the way local or Front Range customers do.
On the other hand, early-season bookings can create momentum for later-season visits. Garrison said good early experiences — especially around Christmas — can help drive visits in February, March and, in 2017, all the way toward a late Easter on April 16.
On the international front, the U.S. dollar has surged compared to other currencies since the Nov. 8 presidential election. A strong dollar had already put a damper on international tourism to the U.S. for the past couple of years. An even stronger dollar could further hamper travel to the U.S.
Domestic travel is also tricky to figure out.
Garrison said that while U.S. financial markets are riding high, right now, Americans are split about how they’re feeling in the still early wake of Republican Donald Trump’s surprise victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“Half the country is elated and half is despondent,” Garrison. Those who are despondent might want to get away to re-group, he added, while Trump supporters may be in a more celebratory mood.
The resorts that succeed may be the ones that find an opportunity and seize it.
While the dip in longer-range bookings is developing, short-term reservations remain solid.
The Vail Valley Partnership, the valley-wide chamber of commerce, runs the Vail on Sale website. It also receives data from Destimetrics. The Vail on Sale site provides travelers with lower-priced rooms, if they’re willing to risk booking closer to their travel dates.
In a text message, Vail Valley Partnership CEO Chris Romer wrote that Vail on Sale numbers are “strong” for November and December. But, he acknowledged, those reservations make up a small part of the overall mountain resort picture.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if regional drive market bookings slowed,” Romer wrote.
But beyond that, time — and events — will reveal what the broader picture looks like.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.