Thursday, December 5, 2002
Steamboat Springs The tourism outlook for the next couple of Saturdays is spotty, but two resort lodging leaders say they're confident their properties will be up, probably by double digits, when December is over.
"We're up 11 percent overall in advance bookings for the month of December," Sheraton Steamboat Manager Chuck Porter said. "It all gets compressed into the last 10 days."
The lodging barometer published by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association projects 4,845 vacationers will be here Saturday night compared to 1,000 fewer on the corresponding Saturday in 2001. However, the early barometer for Dec. 14 shows early bookings lagging almost 2,500 behind last year's pace. And December 2001 was a month fraught with anxiety for the traveling public.
Steamboat Resorts President Bob Milne agreed with Porter that looking at early tourism returns in December can be misleading. Early snow drives the early December reservations, Milne said, but all of the state's ski areas have good snow this year. He expects Steamboat's tourism season to gather serious momentum on Dec. 21.
"It just builds and builds," Milne said. "From the 26th to (Jan.) 4th, it will be hard to find any space. I don't think you can find a pillow in Steamboat Springs right now, from talking to my counterparts."
Milne's company has contracts to manage 14 condominium developments totaling 3,400 "pillows."
Porter's hotel never exceeded 60 percent occupancy during the final week of December last winter. Already, there are some nights that are pushing 90 percent occupancy this year.
The Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. is presently intent on driving post-holiday business with an e-mail campaign promoting fly/ski stay packages beginning in the second week of January and continuing until Feb. 13 in some cases.
Using Austin, Texas, as a point of origin, for example, the ski area is offering packages for a low as $599 per adult. That rate is available from Jan. 6 until Feb. 13 and includes roundtrip air on American Airlines, four nights in a motel and a three-day lift ticket. Beginning Jan. 7, people can upgrade to six nights in a condo and a five-day lift ticket beginning at $781 per adult. There are also "first class" packages including seven nights in an "excellent rated condo" and six days of skiing for $1,594 beginning Jan. 11.
Steamboat was able to grow its Front Range visitation by 20 percent last winter and Ski Corp. Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth has said much of that gain was realized during the December and January holidays.
Milne has insights into the current tourism outlook that goes beyond Steamboat because his company also manages properties in Vail and Beaver Creek. He said Vail has invested significant energy in marketing its early abundance of snow on the Front Range and the campaign is yielding dividends. The frontage roads in front of Lionshead Village at Vail were lined with overflow parking last weekend, he said.
Milne said to accurately understand booking patterns at his properties this month, one has to look at two categories. First it's necessary to compare bookings for properties that were in existence last winter. Year over year, advance bookings at those properties in December are up 10 percent, Milne said.
Add in reservations for new condo projects like the Antlers and Canyon Creek, and Steamboat Resorts' December numbers are up 20 percent, he said.
Porter said advance bookings for January are up 5 percent over last year and February is up 26 percent over the same month in 2002. But March, with a 189 percent spurt over last year, could be the real bonus.
"Given good snow, I'm optimistic we're going to have a good season," Porter said. "We need a good winter season to boost everyone throughout our economy."