Reports indicate March dry spell hurt Vail lodging occupancy
By the (regional) numbers*
0.2 percent: Drop in occupancy at 20 Western mountain resorts for the ski season.
7.2 percent: Increase in lodging revenues at those resorts.
4.4 percent: Decline in bookings made in April for arrivals April through September.
8.9 percent: Increase in aggregate revenue.
*Numbers are for the entire resort set and don’t reflect specific local data.
EAGLE COUNTY — Vail Mountain closed on April 23, but for some in the lodging business, the ski season ended about a month prior to that. Blame a snow-free March.
There was a drop-off in March reservations and occupancy in Vail, and some properties reported a bigger drop than others.
At the Vail Racquet Club in East Vail, general manager Matt Ivy said that property was hit fairly hard.
After a slow start to the ski season, Ivy said the Racquet Club had a “decent enough” December, followed by strong results in January and February.
That’s when Vail was getting strong snow. Then the snow stopped, and reservations dried up.
That was the trend across the region.
Tom Foley, of Destimetrics, a Denver-based lodging research firm, said the March drop was seen in other places. On the other hand, lodging rates in the area remained at high-season levels.
Reservations, though, are a combination of rooms booked weeks or months in advance and those booked closer to travel times.
In Vail, it’s the difference between a family coming from Chicago or New York and driving up from Denver to harvest some powder.
Foley said in general, if long-term reservations slow down, people who can drive to the slopes can often fill those occupancy holes.
March was different
“Weather can draw someone to Summit County, or to golf,” Foley said. “Then, your competition becomes Summit, Phoenix” or golf courses in the Denver area.
In Vail, the dry weather had a significant effect on sales tax collections. March collections dropped by about 14 percent compared to 2016.
While occupancy dropped at some resorts, The Sebastian hotel in Vail was up slightly in March, but little enough to essentially be even with 2016.
“Where we saw deficits was from Mexican visitors, but we made that up with U.S. visitors,” said Annie Lynch, corporate director of sales and marketing for Timbers Resorts, which operates The Sebastian.
The difference between the foreign and domestic guests was length of stay, Lynch said, with foreign guests tending to stay longer.
On the other hand, Lynch said online searches for “snow” essentially stopped around March 15. That was during the period when Vail went 27 days without fresh snow, by Lynch’s count.
That dry spell meant The Sebastian and other lodges had to market to guests based on existing snow.
Not a bad year, but …
“We made our budgets, but it was not a stellar year,” Lynch said.
While March was a rough month, some hotels did benefit from the season-long loss of two Vail hotels from the town’s lodging base.
The former Vail Cascade Resort & Spa — now renamed Hotel Talisa — was closed all season for an extensive renovation project. The same is true of the former Holiday Inn in West Vail — which will re-open using the Doubletree brand.
Together, those hotels account for about 400 rooms.
Foley said other lodges picked up some of that business throughout the season. In addition, lower supply meant a trend toward higher rates.
Foley said the drop in available rooms didn’t equate to a corresponding drop in occupancy.
That, he said, is a win for the town.
Still to be determined is whether this drop in occupancy — the first seen in the region since the 2011-12 ski season — is a one-year anomaly or the start of a trend.
The only way to answer that question is to wait another year — and, perhaps, avoid another warm, dry March.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com or @scottnmiller.
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