Lodging community indicates strong month in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Lodging community indicates strong month in Steamboat

Mike Lawrence

— Initial reactions at ski season's end indicate a comparatively strong local economy in March, capping a winter that some say brought slightly better business to Steamboat Springs than a year ago.

Steve Dawes is committee chairman for the local marketing district, which collects a 2 percent lodging tax in Steamboat to support commercial air service in the Yampa Valley. While Dawes cautioned Sunday that his focus is on air service, which includes second homeowners and local travelers — making direct correlations to tourism a little murky — much of the talk he's hearing indicates a March that was more like a lodging lion than a lamb.

"I have heard every one of the lodging guys say that March was very strong," Dawes said. "I've heard (lodging) numbers up 10 percent and up as high as 25 percent, compared to last March. It seems like the end went very strong."

End-of-season statements from Barbara Robinson, general manager of the Holiday Inn of Steamboat Springs, reflected that sentiment. Earlier this month, Robinson spoke about a surprisingly strong February and early March. On Sunday, she said the winter that was turned out, as a whole, better for business than the winter of 2009-10.

"I was pleasantly surprised," Robinson said. "I think, overall, we had a good winter season. …We are up over last year.

"I think the overall economy is improving. I think people did travel again, more so than the last couple of years," she continued. "Maybe (for) a little shorter, and a little more mindful about their spending, but there's definitely more optimism."

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Last month, Colorado Ski Country USA reported skier and snowboarder visits were 3.4 percent above season-to-date numbers — through the end of February — at its 22 member resorts, compared to the 2009-10 season through February.

"Our season-to-date is the strongest the industry has seen since the 2007-08 season and the start of the economic recession," Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA, said in a news release.

That increase was despite a small decrease, of less than 1 percent, in skier and snowboarder visits at Ski Country resorts from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28, compared to the same period a year ago.

Rex Brice, owner of four Steamboat restaurants, also said the 2010-11 winter was positive for business.

"It was definitely better than last year, across the board, and March in particular looked good," Brice said Sunday.

He said his company consistently has seen better numbers, on a monthly basis compared to the same month a year ago, for the past 12 months.

"I hope this is not a blip in the screen," he said about a potentially improving local economy. "I hope this is a trend."

A trend of increasing visits and business would be great news for the lodging community, which has seen lodging tax revenues decrease 35 percent during the past two years.

Meanwhile, available airline seats into the Yampa Valley have decreased 29 percent during the past three years, according to Jan. 25 comments by Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. President and CEO Chris Diamond, to the Routt County Board of Commissioners.

Dawes said the local marketing district committee will meet later this month to start formulating next winter's airline program. He couldn't yet forecast seating numbers for the 2011-12 winter season.

"We haven't seen the whole picture yet," he said.

Between now and next winter, though, lies a summer season filled with cycling events, new attractions and seasonal standbys.

"I personally was surprised how early people started to inquire about summer. That was definitely a big difference over last year," Robinson said. "I think this will be a very strong summer for Steamboat."

To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or email mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com

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