Lodging cancellations continue for holiday bookings
Occupancy is forecast to be down compared with what is typical over the holidays
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include more recent lodging occupancy data.
Predictions for lodging occupancy from Christmas to New Year’s, which is typically one of the biggest booking periods of the year, vary as cancellations and last-minute bookings continue.
While some lodging establishments have good news ahead of the holidays by being able to open in-person dining services through the state’s five-star program, limiting bookings to one household has become a major hindrance for the industry.
At a community update meeting Monday, Dec. 21, Breckenridge Tourism Office CEO and President Lucy Kay said lodging was running around 85% occupancy last weekend. Kay cited a Nov. 30 report from DestiMetrics that forecast lodging occupancy to be in the 90% to 95% range from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. However, she said forecasts are changing rapidly as people book and cancel at the last minute.
Breckenridge Tourism Office spokesperson Austyn Dineen later provided more recent data from Dec. 15, which shows 68% of room nights in Breckenridge are booked for the holiday time period from Dec. 24 to Jan. 2. In 2019, 84% of room nights were booked for this period.
Kay noted that the occupancy percentage doesn’t necessarily equate to occupancy in a normal year because lodging is limited to one household per unit, meaning 85% occupancy this year could equate to fewer people than it would in previous years. She added that travel sentiment has been dropping since early November, when cases of the new coronavirus began to increase across the country.
Breckenridge Lodging Association President Toby Babich said occupancy is typically at least 90% during the holidays, but this year, he expects occupancy to be about 80% or 90%. Babich said people are getting the message that Summit County is restricted to one household per unit and are canceling their reservations because of the limitation.
“There’s a lot of fear, and I would say frustration, in our community just because of the fact that we really can’t, from a data standpoint, trace back outbreaks or health issues to lodging operations,” Babich said. “In fact, we can prove … that when occupancy was really high this summer, cases stayed low. So the fact that we’ve been pushed back to this one-household (rule) seems like a penalty that maybe isn’t completely fair to our community.”
Babich said people outside of the lodging industry often underestimate the weight of the one-household restriction, particularly for management companies that rent out larger homes. Babich said he recently surveyed the local lodging industry and found that 37% of respondents said they’ve already lost over half of their revenue between Nov. 20 and Jan. 18 with the level red public health order in effect.
As much as 50% or more of a lodging company’s winter revenue is typically brought in between Christmas and New Year’s, Babich said. He added that most people in lodging are processing more cancellations than bookings at this time. Babich’s survey also found that 82% of lodging companies are seeing cancellations outside of the public health order period.
“Just at my company, and I know across the board, (we’ve) spent thousands and thousands of dollars on products and hardware and cleaning resources and blankets and implementing new policies and procedures and personal protective equipment … ,” Babich said. “We’ve done all these things only to turn around, at the most critical time for our industry, to have the door closed on us. (It) is pretty frustrating. We’ve all done everything right, and I don’t feel like we’re being treated equitably.”
Public health officials have defended the rule by saying residents are prohibited from gathering with people from more than one household so visitors should be, too.
Babich said the industry is requesting county officials take the approach of nearby Grand County, where reservations already on the books with two households can be kept while new reservations must follow the one-household rule.
At Beaver Run Resort & Conference Center, director of sales and marketing Bruce Horii said the resort would be lucky to get around 80% occupancy this year. That compares to 95% during the holidays in a more typical year. Horii said cancellations have been mainly attributed to COVID-19 concerns but are also due to concerns about not being able to get ski reservations.
“When we went into level red, that just brought to light to a lot of folks that this is still reeling,” Horii said.
However, he said many people have postponed their trips rather than canceling altogether.
“They all want to come ski, they all want to get out of town,” Horii said. “So I think the pent-up demand is still there, but the level red scared some folks.”
Next week, the resort is anticipating slightly higher occupancy than this week, but not what would be typical in years past. Horii said families have spread out their vacations beyond the traditional holiday peak because they aren’t as tied to children’s school schedules.
Despite the reduced occupancy, the resort is buzzing with the news that dining services have reopened. Horii said the five-star program has allowed the resort to open Spencer’s Restaurant and use a portion of the Coppertop Cafe & Lounge for grab-and-go options and some seating. The resort also will use its conference center ballroom as a dining hall.
“People can get their grab-and-go and come up and have a warm place to eat,” Horii said. “We have a lot of space, and we want to take advantage of that.”
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