Tuesday, January 30, 2001
Steamboat Springs Members of the Steamboat Springs resort lodging community are weighing the possibility of targeting Front Range skiers with special rates for the month of March.
Mike Lomas said this week that he was among a group of local lodging operators who recently met with Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials to talk about signs that March, traditionally the strongest month of the ski season, is looking "a little soft."
"There were comments at the table 'Let's not panic over this thing,'" Lomas said. "It's scary if we have to get into deep discounts because of our cost of operation. With our labor costs, you have to ask yourself if (discounts) are worth it."
Still, Lomas said, the different property managers discussed the possibility of offering Front Range skiers a free Thursday or possibly Sunday night stay when they book Friday and Saturday. Those incentives would be aimed at competing with Summit County ski areas that have succeeded in attracting small groups of Front Range skiers through their buddy pass programs, Lomas said. Offering an extra day at no cost might tempt skiers who want to avoid the heavy traffic going to and from the mountains on Fridays and Sundays, Lomas said. However, nothing firm was decided at a meeting earlier this month, and the local lodging operators may meet again this week to assess the latest reservations data.
Lomas said a significant part of the lodging operators' resolve not to panic is due to the fact that they all had varying tales to tell about advance bookings for March.
Lomas operates three very different properties: the ski in/ski out Ptarmigan House condominiums, the Alpiner motel downtown, and Sky Valley Lodge on the lower flanks of Rabbit Ears Pass. He said that if he had to predict March business today, he would look quite soft during the last week of March, but stronger other weeks in March. Others at the table were strong the last week in March, and not so strong other weeks.
Andy Wirth, ski corp. marketing vice president, told the lodging operators that early bookings for the winter jet program are meeting their targeted goals, suggesting that softness in March is coming not from destination skiers, but from the weekend warriors who make the drive to Steamboat for long weekends.
Wirth said the ski corp. will definitely put supplemental marketing plans in place in key markets, including the Front Range. Denver schools are on break the last week in March, Wirth pointed out. He said the ski corp. will create three-, four- and five-day packages to attract Denver-area families.
However, targeting key parts of the jet program also is part of the plan to invigorate March. That's because during the middle of March, the airline seats from several cities are full.
"Demand is out-stripping inbound seats," from some key destinations, Wirth said. That includes Dallas and Houston, Raleigh/Durham, N.C. and Florida.
There are no direct flights from Florida to Yampa Valley Regional Airport, but the combined demand from Florida to all destinations is making it difficult for people who want to connect to Steamboat through the available hubs in Atlanta, Texas and Raleigh/Durham, Wirth said.
The ski area will respond by increasing its marketing presence in the cities where there are still available airline seats during the middle of March, Wirth said.
"I hate to tell you how long I've been in this business, but over all those years I've seen it all, from 'we're full in March and we've got deposits in the bank' to, 'We're snow farmers and we're dependent on the weather,'" Lomas said. "I almost can't panic anymore. There are times when the phones get unbelievably quiet and you wonder if they're working. Then two hours later, they start ringing again."