Analyst: Mountain tourism in ‘stabilizing mode’
DENVER – The 2009-2010 mountain tourism season has proven to be about as anemic as last winter’s, but there are some signs of more robust visitor activity on the horizon, according to new data released Wednesday by industry analysts.Lodging reservations and occupancy in mountain resorts continued to edge upwards through Jan. 31, but still remain slightly behind last year’s disappointing figures, according to the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP), a Denver-based organization that tracks mountain travel trends.Actual winter occupancy through Jan. 31 is down 1 percent from last season, but that’s up from the numbers through Dec. 31, when lodging occupancy was down 3 percent from the previous season.MTRiP’s data is the result of a survey of 201 property-management companies in 15 destination mountain communities, representing 22,000 rooms across Colorado, Utah, California and British Columbia.Reservations taken in January for the next six months were up 9.5 percent, compared to January 2009, the strongest pace seen in the last three months. The report revealed another sign of progress in January, as it became the first month since April 2009 that actual occupancy increased compared to the same month last year.”These are the first non-red numbers we’ve seen in a long time,” said industry analyst Carl Ribaudo of Lake Tahoe-based Strategic Marketing Group. “And March is beginning to look good.”Ribaudo said there’s a chance a strong spring could compensate for a weak winter.”It’s been a very challenging winter. It’s not as bad as last year – last year at this time, we were looking at a lot of red numbers – but it looks like we’re in a stabilizing mode going forward,” Ribaudo said.The report identified several economic indicators that may have contributed to January’s improved figures. The unemployment rate dropped to 9.7 percent, and the Consumer Confidence Index rose 4.3 percent. January was the third month in a row that consumer confidence grew, rising to the highest level since September 2008.”Confidence is a key piece of people’s decision-making. If people are confident about tomorrow, they’re more likely to travel today,” Ribaudo said.
On the down side, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost value during January for the second consecutive month, which may also impact consumer behavior.”When comparing this year to previous years, our analysis showed that, as of Jan. 31, approximately 40 percent of winter guests have already come and gone, 40 percent have made their reservations, but the final 20 percent is still up in the air,” said MTRiP director Ralf Garrison. “So, it is a bit like half-time at the recent Super Bowl, where second-half strategies can determine the outcome of the game and the season.”Bookings for February are up 2.4 percent compared to February 2009. The trend for last-minute booking appears to remain in effect – the next two months are strengthening, but reservations and bookings beyond March are still relatively weak.Ribaudo said many players in the mountain travel industry have adapted to a weak economy by dropping prices while simultaneously adding extras to vacation packages. “Consumers are still very much pessimistic, and they know everything is on sale, even if you don’t ask for it,” analyst Greg Dunn of Y Partnership said of the national travel scene.Dunn and Ribaudo said there have been shifts in the way people spend money, and the changes may be long-lasting. Affluent travelers are shying away from ostentatious displays of wealth, in what may amount to a new set of values pertaining to money. Those values may blunt people’s impulses to vacation in glitzy locales or purchase luxury items like pricey bottles of wine.”They still want to enjoy the finer things in life, but they’re doing it a little differently, and maybe just not as obviously,” Dunn said.Dunn said conspicuous consumption has given way to more meaningful travel experiences that cultivate life-long learning and personal enrichment.Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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