Reservations will not match last season | VailDaily.com

Reservations will not match last season

EAGLE COUNTY — Bookings at mountain resorts seem to be riding a strong January into the final weeks of the season, but not in Vail.

The most recent report from Destimetrics, a Denver-based resort market analysis and consulting firm, shows that bookings for a 19-resort region through the end of January and into February are adding up to a strong finish to the season. The exception is in Vail, where numbers have dipped from January through March, and dropped significantly in April.

Those numbers, from Destimetrics, were provided by Ann Lynch, the corporate director of sales and marketing for Timbers Resorts, which manages The Sebastian hotel in Vail.

Lynch said the report she has shows Vail's lodging down 1 percent in January, 7 percent in February and March, and 21 percent in April. That report is for reservations that were on the books as of Jan. 31.

April's decline isn't surprising, given that Easter falls this year on March 27 and Vail Mountain closes April 10.

While the overall numbers for Vail have dipped, lodging managers contacted for this story — two of whom are in Vail — say they're still having a strong winter.

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Lynch said the Sebastian is having a record-setting winter, although a couple of unusually warm weekends in February have hurt last-minute travel from the Front Range.

Those close-in bookings continue to grow, which means advance reservations may not reflect reality as the calendar lands on specific dates.

Antlers Lodge General Manager Rob LeVine said he's been talking about the growth of late-booking guests for more than a decade now, and that group grows every year.

Late-booking trend

Bookings in December for December stays were strong, LeVine said, as were the numbers for January. It looks like February will end up the same, he added.

Destimetrics founder Ralf Garrison said the late-booking trend also reflects a shift from international travel to more local and regional travel.

The strength of the U.S. dollar has made travel to this country significantly more expensive. Garrison said Vail is among the resorts that count on international guests as a significant part of its guest base. As those guests go elsewhere, resorts have to fill in holes in their reservation calendars by focusing marketing efforts on guests closer to home — in Vail's case, Colorado's Front Range.

Given the area's good snow this season, that strategy has worked so far. But last weekend's warm weather, as well as warm, sunny weather forecast for the coming weekend, has weakened that appeal.

"The question then becomes how will short-lead business impact the balance of the year, as the weather becomes more balmy?" Garrison said.

That's where group business comes into play.

The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa General Manager Kristen Pryor said that the sales team there did a "great job" of mixing group and leisure business.

Group Business

At the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, general manager Robert Purdy said group business has helped keep that hotel full, or nearly so, through much of February.

While group business is a critical part of the lodging picture, even that business is starting to book closer to travel dates.

Pryor said that while leisure travelers these days are frequently booking four to six weeks before they travel, groups are booking four to six months in advance. That's a tight window. In fact, Pryor said, she recently led a handful of group representatives on a tour of the property. The representative of a group with a November event said she doesn't start planning that trip until June.

While long-range bookings are in flux, the fact is that Vail will probably end this ski season slightly down from the 2014-'15 season. Garrison said part of that is that the 2015 FIS World Alpine Ski Championships filled the valley in February, and set a very high bar for the future. Another part is the early Easter and April 10 closure of both Vail and Beaver Creek mountains.

LeVine, who's spent the better part of 40 years in the Vail lodging business, said while Vail Mountain's relatively early closure will have an effect on that month's business, keeping the mountain open another week might not have the effect some think.

"Once Easter happens, it's spring — people are thinking about different things," LeVine said. "It would be nice if (Vail Mountain) was open another week, but I don't think it would make that much difference."

By the numbers

16,697: Dow Jones Industrial Average closing price on Feb. 25.

1,5.660: Dow Jones closing price on Feb. 11.

17,148.94: Dow Jones closing price on Jan. 4.

.72 cents: Value of an Australian dollar in U.S. currency.

Source: Yahoo Finance