Wednesday, November 20, 2002
Steamboat Springs Ski Corp. Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth tantalized an audience of business leaders Wednesday with a hint of an early holiday present.
"I'm not telling you it's going to be rock 'em, sock 'em, but the week before Christmas is going to be better than the week before Christmas the last two seasons," Wirth said.
He was speaking to about 60 people attending a "Business to Business" luncheon hosted by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association at the Steamboat Grand Hotel.
Wirth was reticent to talk specific numbers but flashed a graph on the screen that showed holiday tourism beginning to build on Dec. 21, then spiking to as many as 15,000 skiers a day on Dec. 28.
Current booking patterns for this December are defying the typical scenario that involves the large majority of holiday vacationers arriving on Dec. 6 and flying out on Jan. 3, Wirth said.
Early season reservations also show a large spike in tourism on March 14.
Wirth said typically the ski area might have booked 30 percent to 35 percent of its March business by this date.
If there is a downside to the early holiday optimism, it's that the roughly three weeks between Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 20 and Presidents Weekend, Feb. 15-17, are soft in spots.
Wirth is particularly sensitive to that trend because he was instrumental in increasing inbound ski season jet seats by 7 percent this winter.
"We have a real challenge to fill in those seats," Wirth said.
Steamboat will see 137,000 jet seats arrive at Yampa Valley Regional Airport this winter.
The flights are underwritten with minimum revenue guarantees totaling $2.15 million and supplied by Ski Corp. and other local businesses.
The stars of the airline program in terms of early booking are the daily flights from Minneapolis on Northwest Airlines and Chicago on American Airlines, Wirth said.
The most troubling early returns are being produced by the daily flight on American Airlines from Dallas.
American has reworked many of its schedules, Wirth said.
The result has been some inconvenient connections for passengers bound for Steamboat from cities beyond Dallas.
For example, Wirth said he recently checked connections for a hypothetical family traveling to Yampa Valley Regional Airport from Tampa.
The flight on the way to the Yampa Valley offered an attractive schedule but required more than a three-hour layover in Dallas on the way home.
"That becomes an undesirable airline trip," Wirth said.
The Steamboat staff is working to improve that situation, but the Steamboat route is of such little significance to American's overall flight schedule, it's difficult to get the airline's attention, Wirth said.