January was bleak for lodging, but business is picking up as restrictions loosen and snow falls
January, which is typically one of Summit County’s biggest tourism months, was tough on the lodging industry with occupancy down year over year and staffing difficulties. The upside is that room nights reserved in January were up, according to DestiMetrics data for Breckenridge, and so far, room nights are up year over year for the spring break period.
Breckenridge Tourism Office spokesperson Austyn Dineen wrote in an email that the DestiMetrics data released Jan. 31 shows Breckenridge’s January occupancy was down 13% in 2021 compared with the same month in 2020. However, room nights that were reserved in January, which have an arrival date between Jan. 1 and April 30, were up about 23%.
Breckenridge Tourism Office Director of Operations Bill Wishowski wrote in his occupancy forecast notes that Breckenridge’s total room nights for the winter season as a whole are down about 9% compared with last year.
While January shows low occupancy data, Presidents Day weekend was pacing to match 2020 at the time the DestiMetrics report was released, with an average of 80% daily occupancy. Looking ahead to the spring break period of March 6 to April 3, Wishowski said the average occupancy on the books for this period is 48%. Dineen noted in an email that room nights are up 1% for this period when comparing bookings as of Jan. 31, 2021, versus the same date last year.
“With the growth in available room nights in 2021, Breckenridge has 1% more room nights on the books than one year ago,” Wishowski wrote in his forecast notes. “The week of March 13-20, the peak week, now has days when the volume of room nights exceeds 2020.”
Breckenridge Lodging Association President Toby Babich pointed out that lodging facilities could house guests only from a single household until Jan. 4, and news about the restriction loosening to allow bookings with two households was not released until Dec. 30.
“A lot of folks (were) just waiting to see if they needed to cancel or not,” Babich said. “A lot of people went ahead and canceled just because of the uncertainty. Specifically for our larger home market, January was very difficult. But by the time this past weekend rolled around, people had a chance to adjust.”
Babich added further context to occupancy rates, noting that within the lodging industry, there are subsets that are doing worse than average, such as lodging facilities that focus on conferences and events, as well as areas doing better than average, such as smaller slopeside condominiums.
“We have to remember that if we see 10% down, it doesn’t look that bad, but there’s definitely some businesses and some folks suffering in those numbers that are going to have a hard time recovering this coming year,” Babich said. “It’s a mixed bag within whatever our final occupancy numbers are going to be.”
Despite the decline in occupancy, Babich said the industry has performed better than he would have expected given the hurdles of restrictions, guest confusion about restrictions, ski resort capacity limits and a dismal amount of snow. He said guests are still excited to get on the mountain. While lodging restrictions have changed to allow two households per unit, Babich said the industry continues to work with the county and state and expects to see further loosening of this particular restriction for summer business. He predicted spring break occupancy would end up being 8% to 15% down compared with last year.
Rhonda Wilson, general manager of The Lodge at Breckenridge, echoed the bleak January data, stating that January revenue at The Lodge didn’t meet the budget of what was anticipated.
“Holiday fill just didn’t quite 100% make it to us, so that was a bummer for that first week of January,” Wilson said. “For most of January, the lack of snow was definitely a bummer on the lodging side of the things and the amount of guests coming into town. That definitely hurts us.”
Wilson said The Lodge fared better over Presidents Day weekend. She said business started to pick up last week, and the lodging facility is pacing to be closer to its February budget. Spring break business is picking up slowly, Wilson said. As last-minute bookings have been the norm since lodging companies reopened for business, Wilson was hopeful that families with kids would visit Breckenridge for spring break.
Across the county, employers have struggled to find and retain service industry employees, and the lodging community is no exception. Wilson said the lack of available employees has been “horrible,” and serving and bartending jobs that typically are filled within a week remain open. As a result, the Lodge has closed its Traverse Restaurant and Bar on Wednesdays and has not operated a ski resort shuttle this year.
“Those are our biggest things,” Wilson said. “We need more snow, and we need staff.”
Patrick Vincent, manager at the Frisco Inn on Galena, said weekends have picked up lately with occupancy near capacity, but overall occupancy is down compared to last year. From New Year’s Day until May, the inn typically is at 90% to 100% capacity, he said. While weekends are full, Frisco Inn’s weekday occupancy is 40% to 60%, Vincent said.
“We usually have night minimums because most of our guests are booking anywhere from three to 10 nights at a time, and we’re just not seeing that this year with COVID,” Vincent said. “It’s a lot of one-nighters, and it’s really spotty throughout the week.”
Frisco Inn was full for Presidents Day weekend, Vincent said, which is usually the inn’s biggest weekend of the ski season. He noted that the lack of snow likely contributed to the lower occupancy rates in January, but he said the inn’s spa business has picked up. In the past two weeks, treatment appointments have filled.
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