Ski industry celebrates a good winter for lodging business, but summer occupancy is down

The 2022-23 ski season is ending on a high note courtesy of extraordinary snowfall across most regions, but particularly throughout the West. 

The most recent data released by DestiMetrics, part of the Business Intelligence division of Inntopia in its analysis of lodging properties in seven western states, includes the preliminary findings of the National Ski Areas Association. That organization reported a record 64.7 million skier/snowboarder visits to U.S. resorts over the winter.

While not all of those daily visits included an overnight stay, bountiful snow elevated occupancy and revenues to a much stronger finish than projected in the face of high inflation and rising interest rates. With snow no longer able to work its magic for mountain destinations in the summer, the coming months are showing considerable slowing from both the winter season and previous summers. Data collected through April 30 continues to show notable declines in on-the-books occupancy for the coming summer as well as softening lodging rates. 

This month’s briefing offers both a single year-over-year comparison alongside a comparison to four years ago — April 2019 — the last full pre-pandemic ski season and summer. The briefing also includes some sharp warnings about how the economy is finally starting to rattle the confidence and vacation planning of summer mountain travelers.

Strong finish for April

Courtesy of excellent late-season conditions, regional occupancy for April was up 5.3% over the previous year. The Average Daily Rate was up 2.7%. Aggregated revenues were up a healthy 8.1% compared to last year. A comparison to April 2019 shows occupancy was up a strong 12.4% Average Daily Rate was up 53.6% over four years ago, resulting in a 72.6% increase in revenues for the month. 

Shaky summer occupancy

In contrast to the winter, economic challenges are influencing bookings for the summer. On-the-books occupancy for the summer season from May through October is down 9.1% compared to last year at this time with decreases in all six months. The summer average rate is now up a moderate 2.8% with increases in every month except October, which is down 0.4%. This is a significant retraction in rates from March 31 when they were up a relatively strong 6.5%.

“For almost two years, lodging properties have been able to hold rates and depend on occupancy being driven by either pent-up demand or in the case of the past winter, good snow,” said Tom Foley, senior vice president of Business Intelligence for Inntopia. “But with most of the pent-up demand met during 2022 and with snow a non-factor in summer bookings, we’re seeing traditional market forces coming into play in mountain communities and are making it very clear that travelers are a lot more rate sensitive this summer than they have been for a very long time. The softening in daily rates over the past 30 days is directly correlated to improved summer occupancy levels and lodging properties are going to have to pay attention to that price sensitivity in the weeks ahead.”

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Compared to the same time four years ago, occupancy is down 8.8%, but the daily rates are much higher than the summer of 2019 and are up a dramatic 40.8% to deliver an impressive increase in revenue of 48.4%.

A ‘win’ for this past winter

From a rather tentative start back in November when occupancy was looking tepid and the economic news was looking challenging, in a year-over-year comparison, winter 2022-23 eked out an 0.2 percent gain in occupancy with declines in four of the six months — all but January and April. But the real victory for lodging properties was daily rates and revenues. The ADR for the winter finished up 5.9 percent over last year and along with the tiny uptick in occupancy, provided a respectable 6.1 percent increase in revenues over last winter. 

The far more striking comparison was to four years ago and the last full pre-pandemic season. Occupancy was down 0.4 percent but ADR was up a dramatic 43.1 percent to deliver an impressive 43.6 percent increase in revenues from four years ago.

Watching and waiting

Length-of-stay has been down year-over-year for the past 13 months but April was the first month since February 2022 that it increased. Moving into the summer months, the average length of stay has dipped slightly compared to last year and is down 0.027 nights compared to Summer 2019.

“The numbers don’t sound that big but shorter stays are a major contributor to slowing demand and put simply, for every 10 nights booked this summer, there are 2.7 nights fewer than in 2019 and that is a substantial decrease,” Foley said.

“So far, summer is having trouble finding any momentum,” Foley added. “Shorter stays and fewer bookings are starting to force a more flexible approach to rates, so as pretty stiff economic headwinds continue to blow, lodging properties are facing a very different reality after 24 months of easy, high-rate bookings,” he continued. “Softer daily rates will be welcome news for consumers but lower rates and soft demand combine to create revenue challenges for lodging properties, so careful rate management and added-value elements become increasingly relevant for mountain destinations as they navigate the delicate balance of attracting guests and managing the bottom line.”

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