Vail Valley lodges report brisk early-season business
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Snow is good.
As local ski resorts revel in the best early-season snow in years, local lodges are reporting good news from their reservation desks. It’s not 2007-type good news, of course, but after the last couple of years, most of us now accept that any numbers better than those posted in 2009 are welcome signs of progress.
Vail on Sale, a website run by the Vail Valley Partnership for hotel deals booked no more than three weeks in advance, is up 12 percent over the same period last year.
Bookings at the Mountain Haus in Vail Village are up, too, as are reservations at the Westin Riverwalk in Avon.
“We’re very pleased with the way the season is shaping up,” Westin General Manager Bob Trotter said, adding that reservations at his place are “significantly ahead” of last year.
Snow is a big part of the equation, of course.
“The buzz on the Front Range about early season snow is palpable,” said Ralf Garrison, director of the Mountain Travel Research Program, a consulting company that analyzes business at Western mountain resorts. “It’s been a dominant subject of conversation here.”
Garrison added that the “timing couldn’t be better” for the early-season storms that have come to the mountain resorts.
“There’s snow you ski on and there’s snow you market with,” Garrison said. “Early snow creates buzz – it gets people excited.”
And people who ski on great early snow also tend to make reservations for later in the season, Garrison said.
While the snow is driving early-season business, reservation numbers were starting to perk up even before the weather turned cold.
Garrison’s company reports that reservations taken in October for stays in November were up more than 14 percent from last year. Reservations for rest of the winter taken in October were also running ahead of last year’s pace.
While the country remains mired in an economic slump, Garrison said Americans still view vacation travel as a “birthright.”
“We don’t have to create market demand,” Garrison said. “But the extra time and money is needed to get people to move.”
That helps explain the continued trend of people making reservations closer to the dates they’ll travel.
“The experts don’t expect that to change for a couple of years anyway,” Trotter said, adding that a couple of major factors are at work – financial uncertainty, along with the knowledge there will be rooms available when they call.
Still, people are calling, and seem to be more willing to pay higher prices.
At the Mountain Haus, general manager Steve Hawkins said while bookings are up from last year, money collected is down.
“Some people don’t want to pay the 50 percent deposit we’ve required,” Hawkins said.
On the other side of that, though, Hawkins said that his lodge is using fewer discounts than it did last year.
While the Mountain Haus has a strong core of return customers, the relatively new Westin Riverwalk is still building a fan base, so is being careful about its room rates.
“We’re raising rates incrementally – we’re still a maturing resort,” Trotter said. “And, of course, there are deals out there.”
While mountain resorts overall seem to be on a gradual climb up, Garrison said Vail and Beaver Creek may be poised to take advantage of the day when consumers feel better, since those resorts are close enough to draw Front Range skiers, but tony enough to draw destination guests, too.
“Resorts are getting better about (drawing guests), and consumers are getting better about doing the things they’re passionate about,” Garrison said. “Everyone’s learning how to cope and it’s giving us a bit of an uptick.”
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.
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