Vail Valley: Small numbers, big meaning |

Vail Valley: Small numbers, big meaning

Ralf Garrison
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

As the 2009-10 ski and snowboard season moves into its final two months, the most recent Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP) report revealed that as of Feb. 28, lodging occupancy surpassed last year’s mark, although just barely – it’s 0.03 percent ahead of last season.

“Many of the gold medal winners at last month’s Olympic Games in Vancouver – like Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller and Apolo Ohno – earned big wins by the smallest of margins,” said Ralf Garrison, founder and director of MTRiP. “The same can be said for the mountain lodging community. This small increase is a big win because it indicates the reversal of a long term down cycle.”

The report showed that February year-over-year occupancy was up 2.7 percent compared to 2009, making it the second consecutive year-over-year increase in actual occupancy. The average daily room rate was down 6.6 percent.

After a strong January, reservations taken in February for arrival in February through July are up 12.7 percent compared to 2009, a continuation of the stronger pace seen in most of the past few months.

The report also noted that while year-over-year occupancy reservations remain down for the next six months, it has improved since Jan. 31. Booking pace also increased with additional bookings in February for arrival in the next six months and “on-the-books” reservations are up for two of the next six months. March 2010 is up 5.4 percent compared to the same month last year, but average room rates are down 6 percent from March 2009.

The MTRiP Mountain Travel Market Monitor also tracks a variety of national economic indicators and assesses their impact on the mountain lodging community.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rebounded from a down January and increased for the eighth month since May 2009, closing the month up 1.4 percent. More recently, in reaction to positive unemployment news for February, the Dow has increased an additional three percent as of March 12.

Conversely, the Consumer Confidence Index decreased dramatically in February, reversing three consecutive months of increases and was down 18.6 percent. However, the lower confidence level didn’t appear to negatively impact retail sales other than cars. Personal electronics sales were up 3.7 percent and the previously depressed building materials sector was up 0.5 percent.

“February indicators were mixed but generally positive for the mountain travel community,” said Tom Foley, MTRiP data analyst and co-author of the report. “Despite paralyzing winter storms across much of the country’s population centers, February retail sales actually increased slightly, particularly on personal electronics and building materials. This encouraged many analysts to believe that retail spending has regained its footing and that consumers are finally loosening the purse strings.

“Although contradictory, that decrease in (consumer confidence) combined with the uptick in retail sales shows that the (consumer confidence) does not always accurately reflect consumer behavior,” he said.

“With the end of season in sight and anecdotal reports indicating decent bookings in March,” Garrison added, “we remain optimistic that the season will finish with better overall occupancies than last year. The mountain travel industry can be encouraged by the positive momentum represented by this month’s ‘win’ and can relate to the Olympic medalists, when even if the margin of victory is small, its significance is not.”

Note: Data is derived from a sample of 201 property management companies in 15 mountain destination communities, representing 22,000 rooms across Colorado, Utah, California, and British Columbia. Data is representative of a comprehensive cross section of the community and may not reflect the entire mountain destination travel industry.

Ralf Garrison is the founder and director of the Advisory Group, which provides marketing services to destination resorts around the country, owning and operating the Mountain Travel Research Program and the Mountain Travel Symposium. Garrison and his team will be utilizing their perspective and research data to discuss market trends relevant to the mountain travel industry. You can contact Ralf at

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