Breck on track for strong summer business
Summer in Breckenridge is off to a potentially record-breaking start for lodging and property-management companies, with visitors flocking to parades, taking to trails, filling lodging rooms and clogging Interstate 70.
According to a Breckenridge Tourism Office report from May 31, bookings for June through November showed a 19-percent gain over 2014.
That increase represents up to 22 properties or property management companies or more than 60 percent of the town, said Rachel Zerowin, BTO public relations director.
The summer gain isn’t a fluke event, she said, as summer bookings have trended upward over the last few years.
AN EARLY START
Zerowin credited a few factors with this year’s jump, including early marketing and a rise in group business.
“Summer marketing started earlier than ever this year,” she said, with the BTO targeting summer visitors as early as February and March.
Occupancy in June, a historically slow month as Summit County waits for mud to dry, showed a slight gain in bookings over 2014, she said, likely because of large increases during the weekend of the Spartan Race.
The obstacle-race event on June 13 brought 20 percent or more increases in occupancy over that weekend compared to last year, and Zerowin said she was excited to see how that event impacted Breckenridge tax revenue.
Local lodging leaders said the town’s first Spartan Race drew more people than the ninth annual Kingdom Days historical celebration the following weekend.
“That race was over 5,000 participants, and then you add on a person or a person and a half on average per entry,” said Bruce Horii, director of marketing and sales for Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center. “We were full, at least for a couple of the nights surrounding that.”
Group bookings, driven by conferences, meetings, family reunions and similar events, has grown in 2015.
Beaver Run is already up 12 to 13 percent in summer conference and event business over 2014, with plenty of booking time to go, Horii said, which he attributed to improved economic conditions encouraging companies to spend more on travel.
“There’s some pent-up demand to get to the mountains,” he said. “It’s going to be a fairly-active summer, businesswise.”
Horii said Beaver Run’s strategy for the rest of the summer and fall is to book as many conferences and large groups as possible during the week and then draw visitors with events like Oktoberfest in September on the weekends.
He hopes people will embrace Breckenridge and Summit County as a home base during the USA Pro Challenge cycling race in late August.
GAS DOWN, SPENDING UP
Fourth of July is typically the busiest summer holiday for travel, according to AAA.
The nonprofit travel organization projected more people traveled during the days surrounding the holiday than any year since 2007 — an increase driven by Fourth of July gas prices, which AAA reported were at their lowest in the last five years. The national average gas price was about two-thirds the cost of gas last year, while hotel and airfare prices climbed slightly.
In Breckenridge, Great Western Lodging general manager Jeff Cospolich said Thursday that his properties were sold out for the Fourth of July weekend.
As the holiday fell on a Saturday this year and a Friday last year, he wasn’t yet sure whether or not that would translate to increased revenue over 2014.
July as a whole has shown large gains in bookings, he said, and June, August and September are also up for the company.
“It’s exciting to see the pace,” he said.
The positive outlook among property managers extends to the town’s restaurant, retail and other business sector leaders.
“We’re pretty optimistic about the summertime,” said Ken Nelson, president of the Breckenridge Restaurant Association.
The co-owner of four Breckenridge restaurants — Briar Rose Chophouse and Saloon, Empire Burger, Giampietro Pizzeria and Park and Main — said he pays attention to the reports and forecasts from industry analysts.
“We’re not in the lodging business, but it is kind of nice to see what they’re experiencing,” he said.
Breckenridge lodging businesses have informed Nelson that they expect to be 85 percent full or more for the next seven Saturdays.
“We know what that feels like in town,” he said, adding that his restaurants are fully-staffed with employees who enjoyed leisure time in mud season and returned ready to work.
Visitation gains in Breckenridge should spill over to the rest of Summit County and the High Country.
Summer occupancy figures across the mountain-resort industry were up an aggregated 8.5 percent compared to 2014 based on bookings as of May 31 for the six months from May through October, as of the May 31 report from industry analyst DestiMetrics. Lodging revenue for the same period was up 14 percent.
“Summer is a growth-opportunity season for mountain destinations, said Ralf Garrison, DestiMetrics director. “In particular, during the last five years as the economy strengthened and the value of year-round diversification has become clear, mountain resorts have been capitalizing on that untapped potential by expanding their recreational offerings, base-area amenities, calendar of special events and marketing to a wide audience of outdoor enthusiasts.”
The organization forecasted gas prices should remain low throughout the summer, and 2015 economic indicators including the Consumer Confidence Index, Dow Jones Industrial Average and national unemployment rate bode well. Plus, people are booking vacations earlier, following a winter trend over the last two years.
“Longer lead-times for bookings is another reassuring trend for mountain properties as it increases the chances of guests following through with their mountain vacation plans, even if the market or weather events experience a shift from expectations,” Garrison said.
The main challenge for summer lodging business remains gridlock on the I-70 corridor, Horii said. CDOT reported traffic caused two-plus hour delays to Denver from Summit County on Sunday afternoon.
“We can’t go through life with every Sunday being a traffic mess,” Horii said.
In June, Gov. John Hickenlooper was scheduled to be the lunchtime keynote speaker at a conference at Beaver Run and was late because of I-70 delays.
Horii said construction has since changed to nighttime, which has helped some.
Another obstacle during some summers can be weather.
Cospolich said the wet spring has meant fewer conversations about wildfire, especially among visitors who often assume a Front Range fire means they won’t want to visit the High Country.
“They might take that to mean all the mountains in Colorado are on fire right now,” he said.
In the key Texas market, Cospolich said, flooding at home slowed vacation bookings in late May and early June as Texans were more concerned about property damage than escaping to the mountains.
That blip has since evened out, and now hot weather on the Front Range, in Texas and elsewhere around the country has been drawing those seeking relief at altitude.
Overall, Cospolich said, “it looks like another perfect storm as far as the summer for business.”
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