About 12,000 visitors expected over the weekend

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— Tourism is expected to be off by about 1,000 people Saturday night as the ski season enters its 13th week. However, one local property manager is cautiously optimistic that lodging properties will see occupancy rates ahead of last year's pace for another month.

"If trends continue, we think we're going to have good occupancy through the end of the third week in March," Harry Lambart said.

Lambart's staff at "Resortquest Steamboat managed by Steamboat Premier Properties" manages 250 rental units. They are contained in luxury condominium projects including Torian Plum, Bronze Tree and Trappeur's Crossing.

Andy Wirth of the Steamboat Ski Area said his staff surveyed 280 school districts nationwide to gain more in-depth understanding of how scheduled spring vacations will affect Steamboat's business. The days when many schools across the country were standardized on a single week in March for spring break are gone, he said. Vacation demand will drop off significantly by the fourth week in March this year, he added.

World events and the threat of terrorism have the potential to take the momentum out of reservations, Lambart said.

"Our reservations calls seemed to slow down significantly last week when (the Homeland Security administration) went to orange alert," Lambart said.

"That was a pretty slow week. It certainly didn't help."

The Lodging Barometer produced by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association anticipates slightly more than 12,000 visitors will spend the night in Steamboat Springs Feb. 22.

That compares to 13,166 on the corresponding Saturday one year ago. Occupancy rates here will gain a little ground over 2002 by midweek; 9,020 people are expected Feb. 26, compared to 8,929 a year ago.

Lambart said filling resort condominiums this winter has required creative discounting.

"The lodging industry nationwide, including Steamboat, is offering discounts this year," Lambart said. "There are some great opportunities for the consumer. We've tried just about every creative marketing program we can try."

In addition to discounting condominium rates, Resortquest has announced incentives nationwide, Lambart said. They include free companion airfares to be used in the future by parties that book with the company.

Vacationers who book a trip to one of Resortquest's Colorado properties this winter will be offered two free nights in a week's stay this summer at one of the company's seaside resorts.

The Lodging Barometer indicates that Steamboat's occupancy rates will be down across the board Saturday among mountain hotels, mountain condos and downtown properties. That is due in part to the fact that there are 133 more lodging "pillows" making up Steamboat's bed base than there were last year.

Steamboat has 19,150 pillows for rent this winter.

Mountain hotels will be 89 percent full this weekend, mountain condos, 74 percent, and downtown properties, 55 percent.

The Lodging Barometer is not a scientific poll, but an informal survey.

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