Spring break tourism slowed in Summit County this year compared to last, but industry experts aren’t worried | SummitDaily.com

Spring break tourism slowed in Summit County this year compared to last, but industry experts aren’t worried

From March to mid-April, occupancy and lodging rates were down from 2022. Experts say it’s part of a come down from a post-pandemic boom.

Riders head up and down the slopes at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area on April 12, 2023. Vacation rental data shows that Summit County saw less occupants over spring break this year compared to last.
Ian Zinner/Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

From lower occupancy, to less money spent on lodging, all signs point towards a decrease in spring break tourism activity in Summit County this year compared to last. 

But industry experts said they aren’t too concerned, chalking it up to an inevitable slowdown from the post-pandemic tourism boom that the county experienced in 2022. 

“I think this was in line with what we were expecting,” said Julia Koster, executive director for Summit Alliance of Vacation Rental Managers. “Demand is decreasing across the board.”

Koster’s group, which represents more than 4,500 vacation properties across the county, found that occupancy was down almost 29% in March compared to the same time last year. The first and third weeks of March fared the worst compared to 2022, Koster said. 

Visitor spending on lodging was also down by an average of 10% to 12%, according to Koster.

“We did see people coming back to Summit County in a big way in 2022 … it definitely felt very busy here last year,” Koster said. “Whereas this year, I think we’re seeing some of that course correction.”

Koster had seen that reality on the horizon since at least the beginning of 2023, when the amount of bookings for spring break lagged behind years prior. By mid-February, bookings made for March were down almost 15% compared to that same time last year, according to Koster. 

And those trends seem likely to hold through the summer. As of mid-April, bookings for June are down about 18% compared to last year. July bookings are down 8% and August is down 12%, Koster said. 

Koster said there likely wasn’t much that contributed to this decline at the local level. Factors that can typically sway visitors, such as snowfall, worked in the industry’s favor this year as the county experienced better-than-average snowfall. But dry spells in early- to mid-April did lead to a sharp decline in the county’s snowpack just days before it was set to reach its historical high point. 

Still, Koster said the national economy likely had more to do with tempered tourism — in particular rising interest rates that have increased from between 0.25% and 0.50% from the start of 2022 to 4.5% and 4.75% as of February.

“People don’t want to pay crazy interest rates on their credit cards to go on vacation,” Koster said. “I think there’s some big-picture economic factors that we have to be aware of.”

Bill Wishowski, director of operations for the Breckenridge Tourism Office, said that “there was a lot of last-minute business” this winter season, and that he believes consumers “were pretty savvy about how they spent their dollars and where.”

“Spring break — March, early part of April — was definitely down compared to last year. But I would call it comfortable busy,” Wishowski said. 

In Breckenridge, occupancy was down 7% between March and mid-April compared to that same time last year, Wishowski said. The average daily rate, which measures what visitors spend on their lodging, was down 4%.

Wishowski said there were several factors for why 2022 saw more activity, from pandemic-era stimulus checks that put more money in consumers’ pockets to the flexibility afforded by remote work and school. 

“There was a lot of opportunity for us to capture business, especially domestically,” Wishowski said. 

Still, even as visitation decreased, overall satisfaction among visitors seems to have improved — at least according to Breckenridge’s surveying of tourists. 

Since late 2022, the town has conducted nearly 1,800 on-the-street interviews with visitors — 82% of which said they would recommend the town for travel. According to Wishowski, that’s an 8-point increase from last year’s results. 

“We feel very good about what the future holds for us,” he said. “We have a great product, we have a great town, we’re fairly easy to access. People just have a great time here.”

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