Vail Valley should fill for Christmas week | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley should fill for Christmas week

Overflowing luggage carts dominate the lobby of the Vail Marriott hotel on Tuesday. The week before and after Christmas are historically the busiest weeks of the ski season, although this year has brought some blips in the usual schedule of reservations.
Townsend Bessent | Townsend@vaildaily.com |

EAGLE COUNTY — There was potentially grim news presented in a Dec. 15 lodging-occupancy report to the Vail Town Council: Reservations for the Christmas holiday were dipping. The busiest two weeks of the year might not fill the valley.

That news — from Destimetrics, a Denver-based market research firm — was greeted with some surprise around the valley. However, based on new information from an incomplete survey, it looks as if the valley is filling up well as Christmas day approaches.

Still, the numbers Destimetrics principal Ralf Garrison showed the Vail Town Council aren’t great. As of Nov. 30, advance reservations for the two-week Christmas/New Year’s holiday were lagging significantly behind the numbers for the same period in 2014. For instance, in 2014, reserved occupancy for Dec. 27 was at 85 percent. The already-reserved occupancy as of Nov. 30 this year was 71 percent.

Kristen Pryor, general manager of The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon, said she was one of the lodging managers curious about the Destimetrics numbers.

“We’ve known we’d be booked for Christmas by about Dec. 1,” Pryor said.

Late reservations roll in

But other lodges have experienced this year’s advance-reservations dip. And, for many, a lot of reservations have come in just this month.

At the Four Seasons Vail, Scott Gubrud, sales and marketing manager, said that hotel has seen a lot of room bookings in the past few weeks.

“We have people booking seven-night stays 24 and 48 hours out,” Gubrud said.

The Four Seasons was booked in 2014 to the point of having capacity problems, Gubrud said. When this year’s reservations looked to be lagging, the hotel put out marketing messages to the high-end travel companies it works with, and the results are encouraging.

Gubrud said the Four Seasons hasn’t altered pricing much, but it has relaxed some of its length-of-stay requirements. That has helped push the hotel’s occupancy into the high 90-percent range between Saturday and Jan. 2.

At the Sitzmark Lodge in Vail Village, General Manager Jeanne Fritch said that lodge — a smaller property in the heart of Vail Village — is filled from Christmas through New Year’s Day.

“We were full (Monday), which is unusual, and we have some availability until Christmas Day,” Fritch said.

In business since the 1970s, Fritch said the Sitzmark still has a number of guests who book for the same week next year as they check out, although that group seems to be dwindling. What has changed is how long many guests stay.

“It used to be week-long stays — now it seems to be four or five days,” Fritch said.

Aside from tradition, Fritch said this year’s great early-season snow has also played a role in driving bookings.

The dollar effect

But there are broader factors at play in this season’s reservations picture. Antlers Lodge General Manager Rob LeVine has been in the Vail lodging business for 37 years. He said a few factors may be driving the dip in reservations.

One of the biggest is the strength of the dollar against other currencies. A vacation in the U.S. is significantly more expensive for Canadian, European and Latin American visitors this year.

“International guests are 25 percent of our business,” LeVine said. “If that number drops 10 percent, that’s a 2 percent drop overall.”

LeVine also speculated that Vail Resorts may have something to do with this year’s drop, primarily because of the company’s investment in the Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort in Utah.

“They put $50 million (into Utah),” LeVine said. “I have to believe that’s drawn their attention this year.”

Finally, LeVine said, ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area have their best early-season snow in a few years. California-based skiers who like to visit Tahoe may see an opportunity this season after seasons of barely-covered terrain.

With all that, and even with some lodging openings this week, the Antlers is booked virtually solid for the week after Christmas. All that adds up to a typically busy Christmas season, with occupancy likely to approach 2014 levels. At The Westin, Pryor remains optimistic about both the holiday weeks and the season to come.

“If the highway stays open, we’ll be fine,” she said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.