"Solid and consistent growth" is the phrase used by Ralf Garrison, director of the Denver-based Mountain Travel Research Program to describe summer bookings and occupancy in the 16 western mountain destinations where the organization monitors mountain resort lodging performance, which includes Summit County. The most recent report, with data and analysis through July 31, revealed that average actual occupancy for the month of July was up 4.7 percent compared to last July, with the average daily rate up 4.5 percent for the same time period.
"After several seasons of increasing summer strength, and the key summer months of June, July and August all but in the bag, we are confident these increases have become a trend," Garrison said. "This is particularly gratifying given the volatility in leisure travel over the past several years, and a lack of any particularly encouraging news on the economic front."
The trend seems to be ringing true over at Blue River Bistro in Breckenridge. Owner Jay Deckerman said June was a record month - something he attributes to heat in other parts of the country - with July and August producing strong mid-week volume.
"This summer we've been extremely fortunate," Deckerman said. "Year over year, this was one of our best summers in 11 years."
Over at The Boatyard in Frisco, business in June was up "a lot," according to owner Cindy Spaulding. She also attributes the increase to the unbearable heat around the rest of the country. July was also up, Spaulding said, although July is always busy in the restaurant.
The MTRIP monthly report also stated that August was continuing the trend, with the on-the-books occupancy up 7.1 percent compared to last August. It will be the fourth consecutive year-over-year increase in monthly occupancy.
"What we discovered this month is that some mountain destinations have fully recovered beyond pre-recession levels," Garrison said. "Unusually hot temperatures may well have helped lure visitors to the cooler mountain settings, but it appears that they also appreciate the lively summer vibe in mountain resorts and that suggests to us that mountain summers may have come of age independently of their winter foundation."
The report noted that economic indicators for the past month were "hopeful" and being driven in part by an improving housing market - which plays a vital role in both the domestic and global recovery. The briefing reported that prices on existing home prices have been increasing and annualized new home starts are up 6.7 percent. Other positive signs discussed were the 1 percent increase in the Dow Jones Industrial Average from last month, and the fact that it is 865 points higher than the same time last year; along with the uptick in the Consumer Confidence Index that gained 5.1 percent during July and at 65.9 points, is 11.3 percent higher than last July.
"The latest results from the National Association of Realtors are very encouraging for mountain destinations since real estate transactions and second homeowners play such a vital economic role in these small communities," said Tom Foley, MTRiP's operations director. "And even though pending home sales have climbed to their highest level since September 2010, in the past three years we've seen similar trends only to be disappointed by a new slump in the autumn, so destinations need to be wary."
Of ongoing concern is the national unemployment rate, which edged up one point to 8.3 percent despite the addition of 160,000 new jobs in July. Increases in oil prices are also on the radar as a potential threat to mountain tourism.