Resorts hurting; late-season bargains possible

Empty beds in ski country resorts might mean good deals for late-season ski travelers.

A survey of 15 mountain destination resorts across Colorado, Utah, California and British Columbia showed a 14.9 percent drop in room occupancy for February 2008 compared to the same month last year.

Additionally, the occupancy rate for those resorts was down 16.3 percent for the winter, said Ralf Garrison of Mountain Travel Research Program.

“Overall demand is down, damaged by the long-term negative market forces,” said Garrison, citing broad-reaching economic impacts as the main cause.

With consumer confidence at its lowest in 47 years, Garrison said changes in consumer spending habits have brought on a “destruction of demand.”

This downturn in spending has had a significant effect on the ski industry and mountain travel destinations, Garrison said.

Vail Resorts, whose umbrella includes Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone resorts in Colorado and Heavenly Ski Resort at Lake Tahoe, Calif., recently reported that lower destination visitation precipitated an 8.6 percent decline in overall business revenue.

Vail CEO Rob Katz said the declines “reflect the impact of the severe downturn in the economy.”

The effects have been felt not only in lodging revenues but other retail segments of the ski industry as well, Katz said.

“Our lodging bookings as of Jan. 31, 2009, were down 14.9 percent to the prior year and reflect a much closer booking window experienced throughout this winter ski season,” Katz said.

“In addition, our guests are spending less on average during their stay, especially in the areas of private ski school lessons, fine dining and retail.”

Katz said some of Vail’s losses were offset by strong season pass revenue and visits from skiers holding special passes such as the new Epic Season Pass.

Similarly, Garrison noted a “surprising resilience” in lift ticket sales because of skiers and boarders who opted to forgo travel for resorts closer to home.

Similar reports are being heard from other Colorado ski resorts as guests look for less-expensive dining and entertainment options.

The revenue stream doesn’t appear to be getting stronger soon.

“While MTRiP data does not forecast future bookings, we’re not anticipating any significant changes for March or April business despite a recent shift to last-minute bookings,” Garrison said.

That “closer booking window” mentioned by Katz is shared throughout the resort business as guests delay making reservations as late as possible.

What this means to skiers and boarders is greater opportunity for last-minute deals and discounts on lodging and skiing packages.

“We’re seeing people book a week out instead of 30 or 60 days as in the past,” said Todd Walton, spokesman for Crested Butte Mountain Resort. “People are waiting until the last minute to see what deals they can find.”

Some of those late bookings are from people holding out for a deal, some from people not sure of their own economic circumstances until close to their travel date, and some from those who wouldn’t consider a ski trip unless a sizeable discount was available.

That all translates to good news for ski travelers heading into the final month of the season, Garrison said.

“The next four weeks will provide some of the best deals on mountain lodging in more than a decade,” Garrison said. “And those that can take advantage of both the snow conditions and pricing, definitely should.”


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