Summit County lodges nearly break all-time records for winter revenue
April 23, 2015
After five years of slow recuperation, the Summit County lodging market is nearly back to the high water mark it hit during the record-breaking season of 2007-08.
The Denver-based firm DestiMetrics last week released lodging revenue and occupancy numbers for the bulk of the ski season. As of March 31, occupancy rates at resorts in six Western states were up 5.9 percent over last year, with revenues up 11.7 percent.
In the Rocky Mountain region — Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — numbers were right in line with the rest of the West. Reservations were up 5.8 percent over last season, leading to a revenue jump of 12.3 percent. Summit County was even healthier, with revenues up 18 percent.
In the Far West region of California, Nevada and Oregon, occupancy was slightly higher than the Rockies at 6.1 percent, but analysts chalked it up to lower room rates driven by dismal snowfall. Revenues in the region topped out at 5.3 percent.
While Colorado wasn't immune to weird weather this winter, a strong holiday season and heavy snowfall last spring led to an uptick in advanced bookings. DestiMetrics refers to this as "snow equity," which was further boosted by a surging national economy and travel factors, such as cheap gasoline prices through the heart of winter.
"As those patterns keep unfolding, the Rocky Mountains are benefiting from better snow equity," DestiMetrics director Ralf Garrison said. "The guy who has been trying for a few years to go to Tahoe has decided to just go to the Rockies."
The final numbers are slightly less than the market forecast released in February, which was based on actual and on-the-books reservations made by the end of January. At the time, DestiMetrics analysts expected revenues across the West to surpass 2007-08 by 5 percent, but again, spotty weather through January and into February had a noticeable impact on reservations.
Between Nov. 21 and Feb. 28, Breckenridge lodges recorded a single day when occupancy was lower than the 2013-14 season, according to the Breckenridge Tourism Office. By March, the town and all of Colorado saw at least a few days when numbers dipped below last year.
"We started out with a bang and lost momentum as the season went on," said Garrison, noting an early Easter helped draw crowds again in April.
DestiMetrics doesn't release numbers for individual resorts, but Garrison said a handful of resorts in the Summit County area managed to break all-time lodging records. Even when temperatures were above average and snowfall was below average, guests were drawn to resort-based events.
In Copper, revenue and occupancy rates were up over last summer during peak seasons around Christmas, Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend and Presidents Day weekend.
"Hosting major on-snow competitions at Copper certainly helped draw lodging guests as competitors and spectators," said Steve Miller, general manager for lodging at Copper. "Partnering with the U.S. Ski team and hosting nearly 95 other race teams for early season training has not only proven that Copper is a great place to ski, but has helped boost lodging stays."
Beyond the slopes, Garrison said visitors are spending multiple days away from the ski hills thanks to the thriving restaurant and retail scene in towns like Breckenridge and Frisco.
"The god of the economy isn't even-handed and neither is the goddess of the weather, and those are the two factors that drive discretionary travel and spending in the mountains," Garrison said. "Some destinations have passed that all-time number, others haven't, but this shows what's being done by the resorts and the towns to stand apart as year-round destinations."
Despite the all-important influence of snow equity, Garrison says the push for year-round events and marketing in ski towns is slowly attracting more multi-day destination guests. The push is nearly a decade in the making, at least on the local level, and as winter lodging continues to recover, so does summer lodging: DestiMetrics has forecast an occupancy increase of 10 percent for the West, with an increase of 15 to 16 percent for Summit County.
"Winter was the economic driver that is now building the infrastructure for summer, which has long been seen as the second season," Garrison said. "But that's no longer the case. Summer has been moving from infancy to adolescence and is now coming into its own. Its no longer an afterthought to winter — it's a destination in its own right."
The Breckenridge Tourism Office is already looking ahead to a strong summer, led by major events like the USA Pro Challenge, with a time trial in Breck and three additional stops across the county.
"We've been marketing Breckenridge year-round for a long time, looking at everything outside of skiing," said Bill Washowski, director of business operations for the Breckenridge Tourism Office. "We've been very good at branding the town, looking at changes that are happening around town through Breck Create and our historical society. We want to keep talking about all the things that happen here and have happened here, and that momentum builds on itself."
While Breckenridge looks to bolster cultural offerings, Copper is focused on summer events, including a stage of the USA Pro Challenge and the Warrior Dash obstacle-course race.
Of course, events would fall flat if the destination guests didn't have the money to attend, and Garrison is confident consumers are ready to take full advantage of the economy.
"We see the economic environment now as a positive for summer," Garrison said. "We expect that the money people aren't spending on travel will be spent when they arrive. It's just a matter of how the resorts convince them to come here, not just once, but into the future."
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