AAA ranks Steamboat No. 1 for Labor Day


— AAA Colorado is reporting that Steamboat Springs is the No. 1 Labor Day destination of its 420,000 members this holiday weekend.

The travel agency operated by AAA ranks Steamboat first on its list of the top five most popular destinations ahead of No. 2 Las Vegas. Santa Fe, N.M., is third, followed by San Francisco and Black Hills, S.D.

AAA's Mary Greer said her organization's members represent 22 percent of the driving population in Colorado. The top-five destination list is compiled based upon the number of inquiries from members seeking help planning holiday travel, Greer said.

"A lot of people in Colorado travel within the state," Greer said. "And a lot of our members have been in Colorado for less than three years, because of all the job transfers we've seen. They're looking for guidance in their travel plans."

There are no hard numbers backing up Steamboat's selection, Greer said. Rather, she said, the staff in the information office chose Steamboat because of their impression that they've fielded many phone inquiries about Steamboat.

"It's been generated by the fact there are a lot of great events in the Steamboat area this weekend," Greer said. "People want to know what else they can do, where to stay and what restaurants to eat at."

Visitors to Steamboat this weekend can choose from among a pro bull riding event, free concert, vintage airplane fly-in and a three-on-three soccer tournament.

However, a weekly lodging barometer issued by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association on Wednesday does not reflect AAA's prediction that it will be a bigger-than-usual weekend for tourism.

The barometer is projecting that across-the-board occupancy rates at the lodging properties in Steamboat will be the same as last year 56 percent.

Steamboat's resort community has been working to rebuild Labor Day tourism since the Steamboat Vintage Auto Races pulled out of town after 1998.

Steamboat's bed base is currently pegged at 17,000 pillows, about 30 fewer than a year a year ago, according Chamber Marketing Director Judy Wiesner. She said the chamber does its official pillow count every year during the second week in February. Wiesner said if the Wednesday forecast of 56 percent holds up, it would translate into 9,520 visitors laying their heads on pillows in Steamboat Saturday night.

The most optimistic segment of the forecast predicts mountain hotel occupancy rates at 86 percent on Saturday. Mountain hotels were projected to see occupancy rates of just 68 percent going into the Saturday of Labor Day weekend 1999.

Vince Rosa, sales manager at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort and Conference Center, said it's somewhat surprising the hotel's bookings for this weekend are as high as they are without the help of a large group checking into the hotel.

"There are some weddings in town that are helping we have one large in-house wedding, but we're finding individuals have discovered us at a pace similar to August," Rosa said.

Sheraton marketing executive Joan Morrison confirmed Rosa's impressions. She said the hotel is 91 percent booked for Saturday night, and the sales since Aug. 3 have taken hotel executives by surprise. Based on the last several years' sales history, the hotel was predicting as recently as Aug. 3 that it would be just 54 percent full. Since that date, the projections have proven wrong.

"The pace that is taking place this year compared to the last several is incredible," Morrison said. "We normally are within 5 percent accuracy. Thirty days out, we're within 3 to 4 percent."

Morrison isn't complaining about being wrong in this case. She said all 275 of the Sheraton's traditional hotel rooms are already sold for Saturday night. All that remain are the more expensive condominiums in Morningside towers.

Occupancy drops off to 65 percent on Sunday, and even lower on Monday, Morrison said.

She said of the rooms booked for Saturday, so far only 67 are attributable to group business. The rest seem to have come from transient travelers. Weekend packages account for 33 of the bookings, golf packages another 11 and the Sheraton Web site contributed 13.

Steamboat's mountain condominiums were projected at just 42 percent occupancy on Wednesday, compared to 49 percent last year. But Kathy Connell of Colorado Resort Services said that number is changing rapidly.

CRS manages 180 condominium rooms and Connell said her projected occupancy rate had grown to 72 percent and with last-minute reservations coming in, she was holding out hope for 75 percent occupancy.

"What we're seeing is a pleasant surprise over last year," Connell said. "We're having last-minute reservations like crazy."

But there's a down side, Connell said. Many of her company's reservations are for just two nights. Rosa reported the same trend, but Connell said two-night stays aren't as desirable for condominium managers as they are for hotels and motels.

"I'm enthused," Connell said. "It's better than being empty, but two-night stays are a loser for condominium properties." She explained that the higher cost of cleaning larger condominiums makes it less profitable to turn them over on a short-term basis.

Connell said she still misses having an anchor event like the vintage auto races, because they tend to generate visits of longer duration.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210, or e-mail


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