January vacation rental bookings in Summit County were up compared to last year. But that didn’t always translate to more revenue.

Data shows a slight increase in year-over-year January bookings for areas like the town of Breckenridge. But shorter stays and reduced rates may have led to a dip in income for vacation rentals.

Andrew Maciejewski/Summit Daily News
The early morning sun strikes the clouds hanging above Breckenridge Ski Resort on Jan. 13, 2023. Data for 2023 shows vacation bookings in areas like Breckenridge were up over the past year, buoyed by factors like above-average-snowfall. But even as bookings rose, the revenue generated was less than the year before, according to data from Summit County's largest group of vacation rental owners.
Andrew Maciejewski/Summit Daily News

Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify the length of stay for bookings.

National and local data shows January was a strong month for vacation rental bookings in mountain resorts — propelled by consistent snowfall, waning pandemic concerns and a generous school schedule. 

But even as booking numbers were mostly up in Summit County last month compared to January 2022, many rental owners saw less revenue, according to data from the county’s largest coalition of vacation rental owners. 

“Those increased bookings also came with lower rates,” said Julia Koster, executive director for Summit Alliance of Vacation Rental Managers, which represents over 4,500 properties across the county. “The short version is: we did more work for less money.” 

According to Koster, income for property owners was down anywhere from 6% to 15% year-over-year for the month of January. While she said vacation renters reported more bookings, many of these were for shorter nightly stays which generated less revenue. 

Koster gave the example of a two-night stay, which she said is generally considered the bare minimum for most vacation renters. 

“We don’t have a huge economic boost from those two-night stays,” Koster said. “So, 10 two-night bookings are worth less than five longer stays.”

The length of stay for bookings in the town of Breckenridge, the economic powerhouse of the county, remained flat in January compared to the same time last year, at a 4.3-night average, according to data from the Breckenridge Tourism Office. 

But data also shows that bookings made for the month of January in Breckenridge were up 6% compared to January 2022. And bookings made in January for stays within the next 10 months were up 4% compared to that same time frame last year.

“In tourism economies, our livelihood depends on travelers’ decisions to come here,” said Breckenridge Tourism Office spokesperson Lauren Swanson, adding that the increased stays still point to a positive economic trend. 

With Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend and the International Snow Sculpture Championships, “January is always a popular time to visit Breckenridge,” Swanson said.

Those events, coupled with a slew of factors such as above-average-snow, helped lead to a strong month for bookings, Swanson said. 

“I do believe that great snowfall and strong seasons can be a destination driving factor for these tourism-based economies,” Swanson said, adding that the continued recession of the COVID-19 pandemic, which last winter was surging due to the omicron variant, may also be a reason for more travel. 

Those correlations align with findings from the national businesses intelligence group DestiMetrics, which recently published data compiled from 17 mountain communities across seven western states. It found that the booking pace for stays in January and for the next several months up until June rose 13.3% compared to this same time last year.

“There is no question that great snowfall always helps move the needle in getting people to book a winter vacation, but that doesn’t entirely explain all the dynamics going on this winter,” stated Tom Foley, senior vice president of business intelligence for Inntopia, in a Feb. 13 press release. 

“Besides widespread snow, a significant number of public schools had their holiday breaks shifted from pre-Christmas to the week after New Year’s,” Foley’s statement continued. “And last January, the omicron variant was having a big impact on travel plans as cases surged so this year’s comparison is against a less-than-stellar January last year.”

Still, uncertainty remains for the rest of the year, especially as vacation renters gear up for what is usually one of their next busiest times: spring break

According to Koster, Summit County bookings for March are lagging compared to this same time last year. Currently, bookings are down almost 15%, though past trends make her confident that property owners will make up the difference. 

“We get a little nervous around the middle of February,” Koster said, “but all of a sudden we get past President’s Day and things fill in.”

“We can always hope for more bookings, more dollars out of those bookings,” Koster said. “I’m not worried, but I’m keeping a very close eye.”

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