Data: Visitor numbers flat for Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Data: Visitor numbers flat for Steamboat

Economic analyst says tourism numbers this season comparable to 2010-11

— A local group of data diggers is taking a new approach at figuring out how many people are visiting Steamboat Springs, and the results might be surprising.

An analysis done last week by Yampa Valley Data Partners volunteer Scott Ford shows that despite disappointing snowfall last winter, visitor numbers during the ski season were comparable to the 2010-11 season. Ford estimated the total number visitors each of the past two ski seasons at about 100,000.

"We may be down in skier visits, but what we're not down is visitors to our fair city," Ford said.

There are numerous sources of data that can be used to help determine the number of visitors coming to Steamboat, and Ford said using just one such source often fails to paint an accurate picture of tourist numbers.

The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association's lodging barometer, for instance, does not detail the number of people staying in a unit or the number of days they are staying. Lodging tax revenues are difficult to compare because revenues vary if discounts are being offered by the lodging properties. And changes in sales tax revenues simply could reflect that the same number of visitors are spending more or less money.

Similarly, if the number of skier days at Steamboat Ski Area were released to the public, it might not directly correlate to the number of people visiting Steamboat, Ford said.

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The National Ski Areas Association reported last week that skier visits were down 7.2 percent for the six-state Rocky Mountain region, a percentage lower than the nationwide decrease of 16 percent. Colorado figures have not been released, but Vail Resorts disclosed that visits were down 8.9 percent at its Colorado ski resorts of Keystone, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek and Vail.

In March, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Diamond said holiday skier visits were off as much as 20 percent but that the drop could be attributed to season pass holders who were waiting for better snow conditions.

Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO Tom Kern said a decrease in skier days this past season also could be attributed to visitors who instead of buying lift tickets for seven days might have purchased tickets for only four or five days.

"People were looking for other things to do," Kern said. "What we have heard is that when you talk to retailers downtown, restaurants downtown, the winter season wasn't epic, but it wasn't reflective necessarily of the message that there weren't a lot of people here."

To gauge the number of visitors who came to Steamboat the past two ski seasons, Ford used a combination of publicly available numbers and some assumed figures, such as the number of days an average visitor spends in Steamboat. He did three separate breakdowns to compare the different results from December through March during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.

For the first analysis, Ford looked at the total number of people who got off planes at Yampa Valley Regional Airport and took into account an assumed number of local travelers as well as the percentage of visitors who arrived in Steamboat by means other than air travel. With a slight increase in the number of people who got off planes this past ski season, Ford estimated that overall visitor numbers were up about 1 percent over the previous year.

For the second analysis, Ford looked at lodging tax collections and calculated there were 153,022 room nights sold this past season compared to 158,883 in the 2010-11 season. Taking into account the average length of stay, the average family size and the number of people who stay with friends and family, Ford estimated there were 100,892 visitors this past ski season compared to 104,757 in 2010-11.

Finally, Ford used sales tax revenues and the average dollars spent per visitor, a number that was estimated by Ski Corp. Using that analysis, Ford found there were 106,253 visitors this past season compared to 105,400 in 2010-11.

Ford said the average of the three breakdowns showed there were 98,914 visitors this past season and 99,579 in 2010-11.

"The evidence points to that there was not a meaningful change in the number of visitors between the two ski seasons," Ford said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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