Tourism rush to High Rockies sets lodging record for third consecutive summer
Ryan Summerlin August 23, 2014
Colorful crowds file into Summit to cheer on their favorite cyclists today as the USA Pro Challenge rolls into Breckenridge.
Major summer events like this being held in resort communities throughout the High Rockies have led to a surging summer tourism industry.
For the third consecutive year, summer lodging in Summit County and throughout the Mountain West will break all previous records.
“It is indeed a record,” said Ralf Garrison, senior analyst with DestiMetrics, a Denver-based that tracks resort performance in mountain destinations to provide forward-looking reservation data on a monthly basis.
The summer season runs from May through October in the formula used by DestiMetrics. For the entire Rocky Mountain region, occupancy rates for the six-month period are 4 percent higher than last year’s record-breaking summer. Revenues are expected to grow 6.9 percent by season’s end.
“We are already at 90 percent of last year’s total,” Garrison said. “That’s business that is already in the books. And there will be much more in the books by the time we get through October.
“There is positive momentum. It’s a lot like the laws of physics. An object in motion tends to stay in motion until affected by an outside force. With three sequential years of record growth — this is more than a trend.”
Rachel Zerowin, a spokeswoman with GoBreck, the destination marketing organization for the town of Breckenridge, said there are several reasons for the increased lodging activity, with one being the increased amount of summer activities and events now planned by resorts during the summer.
“The diversity of activities to do here in the summer has continued to grow,” Zerowin said. “We are also planning and marketing more events than in the past.”
The proof is in the books. August occupancy in Breckenridge is 28 percent higher than it was at this time last year.
The third consecutive year of record summer tourism revenue now seems a distant cry from the chilled years of the recession.
“By summer 2008 vacation numbers started to cool off,” Garrison said. “There was less money out there for people to spend on vacations. But now the economy is strong. There is an economic rising tide carrying all this forward.”
It’s not just tourists, second-home owners are also spending more time and money. DestiMetrics has a special term they use for second-home owners spending in the Rockies.
“We refer to the second-home owner as a MAMMIL (pronounced mammal),” Garrison said. “That stands for a middle-aged man in lycra.”
Ideal weather and climate conditions have also contributed.
“A couple years ago there were heat waves and wildfires in Colorado,” Garrison said. “People like to travel to Colorado in the summer because it is cool and refreshing. People hear about wildfires in the news and they might not want to travel here. But with the monsoon season it has been wetter and cooler and no wildfire problems this year.”
The values found for summer is also a travel factor.
“Summer lodging is a lot less expensive than winter lodging,” Garrison said. “Room rates in the summer are about 60 percent of the average winter rate.”
But the lower rates charged are also what will keep the summer from ever trumping the amount brought in during ski season. Summer visitors also spend a lot less. Money is not being spent on ski lessons and lift passes, among others purchases. Lodges and resorts receive 60 to 70 percent of their annual revenue during the winter. Despite the increased success of attracting tourists in the summer, those months still only account for 30 to 40 percent of annual revenue.
“Summer will never be as profitable as winter is,” Garrison said.
But a profitable summer might lead to an even more profitable winter.
“Winter is trending very positively,” Garrison said. “The rising tide floats all boats.”
So far, winter reservation numbers are considerably higher. November reservations are already 17 percent higher in the region than they were at this time last year.
And when you localize the lodging numbers they grow even greater.
Just looking at reservations made in July for any arrival date, Breckenridge has seen a 24 percent increase from the number of reservations made in the same month last year.
“When we look at the advance booking, it’s definitely trending so far to do better than last year,” Zerowin said. “People are booking their rooms further in advance than normal. It’s a good sign for winter.”
Also, occupancy for the upcoming six months, August through January, is already 13 percent higher than this time last year, with a revenue increase of more than 6 percent.
“I think this hints to strong early-season winter bookings,” Zerowin added.
Weather and climate once again plays a role in the winter just as it does in the summer.
“Last year there was a lot of snowfall,” Garrison said. “That perception from last year will carry over. And the economy continues to improve. It’s too early to confirm a record winter, but it’s looking good right now.”
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