Early winter bookings down across mountain resorts compared with last year | SummitDaily.com

Early winter bookings down across mountain resorts compared with last year

Lauren Glendenning
The Aspen Times

A bad to average snow year in 2014-15, questions about the impending "Godzilla El Nino" and a strong American dollar are all factoring into the booking pace for this winter.

Data released Thursday show a slowing in early bookings across the mountain-resort industry compared with last September. Destimetrics, which analyzes mountain-resort economics, shows that "booking momentum into the winter months is pacing slower for the first time in more than three years."

Destimetrics Director Ralf Garrison said Thursday that the slowdown isn't a major concern but that it's something to watch.

Job creation has slowed, the housing boom has flattened a bit and markets are getting volatile, he said, all of which affect spending and consumer confidence.

"Consumers don't like volatility and uncertainty," he said.

The slowing industry performance for winter bookings rings true in the Aspen market, too. Stay Aspen Snowmass President Bill Tomcich noted in his September occupancy summary, which was released Tuesday, that the decline in September bookings for winter would likely pick back up once the weather changes.

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The Indian summer in the valley has fueled impressive results for September and October business, however, with Aspen and Snowmass posting their strongest September in nine years, according to Tomcich.

The Destimetrics data put this summer as the best summer ever across mountain destinations, with overall occupancy up more than 7 percent and revenue up more than 11 percent from May to October, Garrison said.

"Summer is up more than 50 percent from the summer of 2008, the prerecession high," he said. "The notion that summer ends when the kids go back to school, which is the proverbial thinking, has proven very much wrong."

With a strong American dollar at play, the winter destination guest — Aspen's bread and butter — is facing a poor exchange rate. But that's not all bad news — Tomcich said Argentina "is booking like gangbusters right now."

"They're concerned their currency will get worse," he said. "Every other reservation coming in over the last several weeks seems to be coming from Argentina."

But the strong American dollar is working against Brazil and Australia, two of Aspen's top international markets, he said.

It's something Aspen Skiing Co. is watching, too. Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said international business, which books further out, will be a challenge this year due to the dollar's strength.

"We have seen strong pass sales, and we feel that if the snow comes as predicted, we will see things fill in with domestic business as well as international markets that book closer in to their travel dates," he wrote in an email.

The booking pace might be slower than last year, but Hanle said last year was the strongest early pace the company had seen in years.

One thing to Colorado's advantage is something Garrison calls "snow equity," the memory of last season's snowfall, which helps consumers make decisions about the upcoming winter. While last year didn't break any records, Colorado did considerably better than the far West and its severe drought. But that snow equity in the far West means there are screaming deals to be had around the Lake Tahoe region, which Colorado destinations will have to compete against.

Tomcich said competition for ski businesses is "as formidable as it's been for quite some time."

Canada is touting its low exchange rate, while the far West is talking about this so-called Godzilla El Nino that could dump a lot of snow on the region come winter. And then there are those resorts that are significantly dropping their rates in order to buy occupancy, he said.

But there is an improved booking process — Tomcich said a new booking platform called Intopia that went live about three weeks ago at http://www.stayaspen snowmass.com should help capitalize on more last-minute reservations this coming season.

Tomcich said a little early snowfall this month could be enough to turn things around, too.

"We've got a lot to sell. We just need to create the demand at the right time when we know the demand is there for skiing, and that's something that can turn with the weather," he said.

lglendenning@aspentimes.com

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