While occupancy numbers for resort bookings in Summit County are still suffering from last season's poor snowfall, that trend looks to be making a turnaround.
The month of December was down in occupancy by 2.6 percent from 2011.
"It is no surprise that December's business is down from last year," said Ralf Garrison, director of the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP). "Advanced reservations have shown that trend for the past six months since the trend came forward."
The reasons for the downward trend, Garrison said, were due to last year's lack of snow combined with this year's slow start, as well as the relative uncertainty of the economy. Discussions about the economy during the presidential election quickly became discussions about the fiscal cliff, which affected consumer confidence.
"Last year was a bad year and there's a little bit of a hangover effect," Garrison said. "Guests were concerned about whether the resorts would be back in Mother Nature's good graces. They sat on the sidelines longer and waited ... for insurance."
The snow that the mountains received around Christmas was positive, said Garrison. Although it was too late for out-of-state visitors to take advantage of, those closer to the area, such as people on the Front Range, got the "snow message" and have started coming back.
"Now the elections have come, the fiscal cliff has come and the snow has come," Garrison said. "The rhetorical question is if there's enough momentum being created now that we can offset the slow start."
According to the numbers in MTRiP's latest occupancy report, the answer to that question is "yes." Midweek occupancies in January are consistently pacing above last year by at least a few points each day and some days by as much as 15 percent higher. Overall levels will be between 40 and 60 percent occupied each day. The weekend revolving around the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday is looking particularly positive.
The positive trend looks to continue into February. The day of the Mardi Gras Ball, Feb. 9, may even push past 90 percent occupancy. Predictions for the month of March show a decline in the first half of the month with an increase in the second half. The winter season, overall, is currently pacing 5 percent above last year's occupancy at the same time.
The increased amount of visitors during the past few snowfalls is positive in more ways than just numbers, said Garrison, as they will act as messengers to others.
"They bring with them smartphones, that have the communications power of a broadcast studio and a social network the size of the universe and they begin to communicate a message to the rest of their friends and network about how the Christmas season was," Garrison said.