Vail lodging business is on upswing | VailDaily.com

Vail lodging business is on upswing

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – As the fall colors fade, locals are starting to think about winter. So are a few valley visitors.

Fall isn’t a great time to gauge winter reservations, but early indications are that the coming ski season may be at least a little better than the last one for local lodges.

“Everything we can track is trending positive,” Vail Valley Partnership executive director Chris Romer said. The Partnership has long been one of the valley’s main reservation centers, and Romer said his call center had a good summer and is having a better fall than last year.

“Every month of the summer was better than last year, and winter reservations are ahead of last year,” Romer said.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean people are back to the days of booking their President’s Day lodging while leaves are still on the trees. In the lodging business, advance reservations help managers and owners with just about everything from hiring to how many new towels to order. People booking a weekend trip on Wednesday is welcome, especially these days, but it puts a lot of uncertainty into business plans.

That’s why the Antlers Lodge last year tried to push guests to book early. The lodge’s discount packages started off big, then dwindled closer to ski season. The strategy worked, to a degree, lodge general manager Rob LeVine said. But it worked well enough that the Antlers is using the same strategy again this year.

This time of year, the Antlers usually takes in about $25,000 per day in winter reservations. The two days before the latest discount offer expired, the lodge took more than $180,000 in winter reservations.

“Discounts still sell,” LeVine said.

Romer, and a lot of other people in the lodging business, don’t like the “D” word. They prefer “value.”

Instead of just cutting prices, “value,” as defined by industry types, includes things such as an extra night, or a spa, meal or gear-rental package to go along with a room reservation.

“A compelling reason to book now is a way to capture market share,” Romer said. But lodges need to craft a season-long strategy of different packages at different times, he added.

“There’s a certain amount of the traveling public trained to wait for the best deal, or that wait because of their own uncertainty,” Romer said. “You want a different package in February than what you offer in September.”

That’s part of the reason Vail’s popular Street Beat concerts have been moved to Thursday nights from Wednesdays – to try to tempt weekend travelers to book an extra night.

But people booking now will see those concerts as secondary to the real reason they come – the ski hills.

And those dedicated skiers historically have taken their time before booking rooms.

Even with the most recent late-fall boost, LeVine said The Antlers is just less than 30 percent booked for the winter, the same as last year. That’s a big dip from the falls of 2006 to 2008, when the lodge was more than 40 percent booked in mid-fall.

But those years were the exception, LeVine said. For most of the years of this decade, mid-fall bookings hovered at 30 percent or less, he said.

Ralf Garrison is a co-owner of the Mountain Travel Research Program, a company that compiles data about lodging occupancy, daily rates and other information across Western mountain resorts. Garrison said, as an industry, mountain resorts are out-performing much of the rest of the resort economy.

“The market metrics that make consumers happy and want to travel – like consumer confidence – have yet to really materialize,” Garrison said.

Beyond the larger market factors, even dedicated skiers aren’t expecting snow yet, Garrison said. Looking to the skies comes later in the fall – November, at the earliest.

And while average results look encouraging, Garrison said bookings can vary widely, not just from resort to resort, but from lodge to lodge.

“In a flat market like this, somebody wins and somebody loses with reservations,” Garrison said.

Still, LeVine and Romer are encouraged by what they’ve seen, especially given the big drops in the tourism business that came after the financial collapse of 2008.

“It’s a different world between then and now in terms of consumer behavior and confidence,” Romer said. “It’s much, much stronger.”

But that doesn’t mean new glory days are around the corner.

“We’re back to 2006-07 in real dollar terms,” LeVine said. “But we’re focused on a direction, and we’re headed the right way.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or

smiller@vaildaily.com.