Winter business looks strong despite snow |

Winter business looks strong despite snow

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – If Ralf Garrison were a mountain resort destination, he said he’d like to be Vail.

Garrison, director of the Mountain Travel Research Program, or MTRIP, which studies mountain resort economics, presented some uplifting facts to the Vail Town Council Tuesday afternoon both about the past summer and the current winter seasons. The news is that business, measured by hotel occupancy and average daily rate, is increasing.

The 2011-12 winter season is looking “surprisingly strong, given overall market conditions and snow,” Garrison said, adding that consumer confidence is low, financial markets are volatile and early season snowfall isn’t exactly “epic.”

He attributes the surprisingly strong outlook to the fact that maybe consumers aren’t being economically logical – that baby boomers specifically feel vacations are a birth right.

“Especially in sports and attractions that people are really passionate about,” Garrison said.

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Bookings for the upcoming winter, even as very weak early-season snowfall has plagued many western United States ski resorts, are looking strong. The lack of natural snow has not seemed to deter visitors yet, Garrison said.

“We haven’t seen virtually any cancellations in the Rocky Mountain West,” Garrison said. “You probably have adequate snow for the expectations of most Christmas guests.”

Vacationers booking trips for February and March will make the “safest bet they can” in terms of snow, Garrison said, because there’s “no epic snow anywhere in the hemisphere.”

With data as of Nov. 30, MTRIP shows Vail is ahead of last year’s booking pace by 19 percent, nearly double the increase of the mountain resort industry as a whole, which is ahead of last year by 10 percent. MTRIP data from 15 popular mountain resort areas in the West is what makes up the data referred to as the mountain resort industry.

Garrison said that occupancy success could be at the expense of rate, however, since Vail’s average daily room rate is about 4 percent less than last year. The industry as a whole is about 2 percent higher than last year in average daily rate.

Vail’s revenue per available room is seeing higher 2011-12 increases than the industry – Vail is up 15 percent over last year while the industry is up 12 percent.

The summer news is good, too, as Vail saw increases in both occupancy and average daily rate in the summer of 2011. The overall mountain destination industry did not see a rate increase, while Vail’s was up 3 percent.

As for occupancy, Garrison said Vail is “holding, or gaining slightly on the pack,” with about a third or fourth-place ranking when compared to other mountain destinations.

When Mayor Andy Daly asked what the successful summer resorts are doing particularly well, Garrison attributed the success to a long history of summer business, such as the resort areas of Lake Tahoe, Aspen and Telluride.

This past summer felt different for Vail, though, and in a very good way.

“My sense about Vail this (past) summer is it really felt like a mature summer destination,” Garrison said. “I like your summer prospects.”

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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