Numbers point to stronger ski season
In the most recent data released by the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP), the upward trend in lodging occupancy continued for January with the average actual occupancy at more than a dozen major western mountain destinations up 5.8 percent in January 2011 compared to the previous January. A retrospective of the past six months (August -January) showed average occupancy up 9.4 percent and nightly rates essentially flat-up 0.4 percent. The recent results were also notable because it marked the fifth consecutive month for a year-over-year increase among participating destinations. According to the report, February and March look good with only the April figures currently lagging behind last year’s pacing.
“The strong results experienced at mountain destinations during the past six months combined with continued signs of economic recovery and plentiful snow in most parts of the country have provided a solid foundation for a respectable, although not spectacular, winter season,” said Ralf Garrison, director of MTRiP. “The steady increases in occupancy at most destinations is good news for lodging properties, but the flat rates show that guests are still insisting on deals, so overall lodging revenues aren’t likely to be as strong as hoped.”
February projections are modest with on-the-books occupancy as of Jan. 31 up 1.4 percent compared to the same time period as last year, while the preliminary forecast for reservations for arrivals from February through July 2011 at participating mountain destinations are currently up 6.5 percent compared to last year. The average daily rate edges up slightly – less than 1 percent.
For the remainder of the season, Garrison predicts mountain lodging will remain a “buyers’ market” with properties continuing to offer compelling lodging rates and packages that will encourage overnight visits and meet consumer expectations for great lodging deals.
Economic indicators influencing consumer behavior remain mixed. Despite another dramatic drop in unemployment down to 9 percent, MTRiP research analyst Tom Foley sees the decrease as a potential pitfall.
“The drop in unemployment is mostly due to a decline in the number of unemployed actively seeking work and so they are not counted in the unemployment figures and that creates a ‘false’ decline,” Foley said. “We anticipate these workers will return to the job market in significant numbers in the next few months when they will once again be included in the unemployment figures. That has the potential to push the rate back up and negatively impact consumer confidence and mood.”
The report noted that on the optimistic side of the economic equation, the Consumer Confidence Index increased 13.7 percent in January, topping 60 points for the first time in seven months and indicating that consumers may be feeling better about business, labor conditions, and hopes for a sustainable recovery. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 2.7 percent from the end of December for the eighth increase in the past 12 months and continues to play a major role in how consumers view the economy. The Leading Economic Indicators posted a 1 percent increase for December (most recent data available). This index measures economic fundamentals and can become a predictor of future market performance. The Travel Price Index edged up slightly, 0.5 percent, indicating that growth in the travel industry continues to outpace the overall economy and illustrates consumer willingness to keep traveling despite slight price increases.
“We are likely looking at a solid season for the destination ski industry with overall occupancy surpassing the past several years although not yet rebounding to the pre-recession levels,” Garrison said. “Consumers are showing renewed confidence with the improving economic news and seem to be spending more but still looking for the deals they have come to expect.”
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