Summit County properties see more growth in bookings, occupancy, revenues
With an unseasonably warm and dry fall that delayed the openings of Summit County ski resorts, some residents might have been growing anxious about when the snow would arrive and how the weather would affect business. Though summer tourism is growing, ski season is still the county’s money maker.
Lodging companies and rental property owners, however, were not worried.
Before last week’s snowstorm dropped several feet of snow throughout the county, “on-the-books” occupancy for the six-month winter season (November through April) was higher than it was during the same time last season.
On-the-books occupancy for the ski season as of Oct. 31 is up 7.4 percent and overall revenues are up 13.9 percent, according to data released on Friday, Nov. 14, by Denver-based DestiMetrics, an organization that tracks mountain lodging bookings in 19 Western mountain communities in six states. The data revealed increases in every month of the ski season except April.
“This year’s booking pace is a continuation of last winter’s momentum, so we’re seeing ‘snow equity’ playing the lead role in the booking patterns we’re seeing so far,” said Ralf Garrison, director of DestiMetrics. “However, by this time next month we expect that last year’s snow equity impact will give way to current snow conditions and that will shape the snow story for the season.”
The company also reported that the record-breaking summer season (May through October) for mountain destinations ended with October occupancy for the entire Western region up 13.7 percent compared with October 2013, and revenues for the same period up 13.9 percent.
“Summer is clearly a big growth opportunity for mountain resorts as we saw occupancy for the entire summer climb 6.3 percent and overall revenue break 10.9 percent this year over the 2013 record-setting year,” Garrison said.
“Far West resorts are better established for summer business, but we are seeing the Rocky Mountain resorts expanding their summer products and marketing to capture the potential of this promising season including the previously underrated ‘shoulder’ months of September and October,” he added. “With the passage of the new Ski Area Recreational Opportunities Act, which grants more latitude to how resorts use their land during non-ski months, we expect to see summer business continue to grow.”
In Breckenridge, this ski season has meant growth in revenues and occupancy as well as an extension of the booking window for reservations made in the fall.
“Bookings have been strong since the early fall, and showed no real signs of slowing down,” said Toby Babich, president of Breckenridge Resort Managers.
Visitors seem to be booking both further in advance and more often, he said, signaling that overall demand growth is becoming consistent.
“I am surprised the DestiMetrics numbers are not higher for this coming season,” Babich said. “Last season we experienced our first eclipsing of the 2008 season in terms of revenues, and we continue to demonstrate that sustained growth is the new normal for Breckenridge.”
The recent snowstorm boosted interest, he said, but visitors understand that Breckenridge offers more than just snow year-round.
Breckenridge Grand Vacations, which owns the Grand Lodge on Peak 7, Grand Timber Lodge and Gold Point Resort, experienced a 25 percent jump in online bookings this October compared with October 2014.
“We are very excited to see the kind of growth year-over-year at our properties and in Breckenridge in general,” said Ginny Vietti, BGV vice president of marketing, adding that she’s happy to see the economy turn around and more people wanting to take ski vacations.
“We had an amazing ski season last year, and if the past week has any indication of another great season ahead, we’re thrilled,” she said.
GOOD ECONOMIC NEWS
The DestiMetrics report also attributed ongoing positive news from the economic sector for the continued steady growth in mountain bookings.
Despite some dramatic swings in the Dow Jones Industrial Average because of the Ebola crisis and global political situations, the index ended October up 2 percent from September at 17,390.53, setting an all-time monthly high.
A 5.5 point rebound in the Consumer Confidence Index from September’s drop was attributed, in part, to a more positive attitude by consumers about new job creation and, for the first time in many years, earning potential.
Employers added 214,000 new jobs during the month, which helped bring the national unemployment rate down another basis point to an overall 5.8 percent.
“This is positive news, but a broader evaluation still presents several concerns,” said Tom Foley, operations director for DestiMetrics. “We are still seeing a high number of long-term unemployed, a very low workforce participation rate and stagnant employee earnings that are barely keeping up with inflation. Those factors can have an impact on discretionary travel expenditures.”
Foley also pointed out that recent declines in crude oil prices are translating into savings at the gas pump that could boost winter vacation bookings.
As the winter season moves into full swing and resorts roll out incentives, the DestiMetrics staff acknowledges that the weather will have a significant impact on bookings in the next few weeks and into the New Year.
“Even though we are very pleased with the bookings at this point in the season, we know that consumers can be skittish about their winter vacations based on snow conditions and economic realities,” Garrison said. “So, we never take Mother Nature or the financial markets for granted, especially this early in the season.”
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