Large crowds expected for week of Christmas

Numbers show holiday bookings high

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Tom Ross Pilot & Today Staff Steamboat Springs Christmas falls on a Saturday this year, the day when the number of inbound flights at Yampa Valley Regional Airport -- 14 -- is the greatest. People who celebrate Christmas would rather not travel that day, and that means flights arriving at the airport near Hayden from Dec. 26 to 28 will be exceptionally full. Steamboat marketing executive Andy Wirth said Monday that airline reservation computers indicate almost 6,000 people are scheduled to arrive at the airport between Dec. 25 and 28. The airport offers 2,133 inbound seats Saturday, and 82 percent or 1,800 were sold as of Monday, Wirth said. The number of arriving seats is lower during the remaining six days of the week, and consequently, the airplanes are virtually full. On Sunday, 1,400 of 1,413 seats are sold. On Monday, 1,350 of 1,364 seats are sold and 1,269 seats are sold for Dec. 28. "The most desirable travel days are Dec. 26 to 29, but those days are sold out," Wirth said. "That forces the market into looking at Christmas Day." Steamboat increased the number of inbound seats for the winter by 3 percent this ski season and year to date bookings are 14 percent ahead of last year, according to Wirth.

Steamboat's resort community got a solid boost from early holiday vacations in school districts nationwide, and pre-Christmas tourism this week is up over last year. After a slight pause Dec. 25, tourism can be expected to build into next week.

The lodging barometer published by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association on Dec. 15 anticipated 10,400 visitors would spend the night in Steamboat on Wednesday, up 800 from the corresponding Wednesday in 2003, which was Christmas Eve.

Steamboat Ski Area marketing executive Andy Wirth said when this ski season is finally in the books, it may turn out that Saturday, Dec. 18, was the busiest day of the winter at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

"We had a very heavy arrival day on Dec. 18," Wirth said. "I think it's highly unlikely we'll exceed Saturday the 18th this winter."

The Christmas rush will be bigger, but airline arrivals will be spread throughout five days.

When it comes to holiday skiing, timing is everything, and it looks like Christmas Day could be a good day to hit the slopes. Christmas Day will see 10,000 people in town, but thousands more will be on their way in the days that follow.

This Wednesday could prove to be busier on the slopes than Saturday, and Steamboat resort lodging properties will be packed by Monday.

"According to our hotel contacts, town is sold out Dec. 26 to 27," said Sarah Hoeller of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.

The Dec. 15 lodging barometer published by the Chamber provided an early snapshot of Christmas. It suggests that the holiday will see relatively moderate business, with 66 percent of the resort's 19,054 guest pillows occupied Saturday night. That number could be revised when the newest lodging barometer is published Wednesday.

Next week will be busier, but arrivals will build during four days. For the period Dec. 26-29, Wirth said he was encouraged to see about 250 more airline passengers booked than for the same period last year.

"I was pleasantly surprised," Wirth said. "Last year we had outstanding results."

Sheraton Steamboat General Manager Chuck Porter said out-performing Christmas week 2003 would be an accomplishment.

"I hope we can reach what we did last year. December was so strong last year," Porter said.

Keith Skytta, manager of Snowflower Condominiums, adjacent to the ski gondola parking lot, said this week has been busy and that next week will be even busier. But he said rooms are available next week and that holiday vacationers who are prepared to be flexible can negotiate discounted lodging.

"It's because Christmas falls on Saturday," Skytta said.

The ideal calendar for resort property managers comes when Christmas falls midweek. That scenario dictates that many people will stay at home for Christmas Day and travel Dec. 26 or 27. It also means they are more likely to extend their trip to Steamboat through New Year's Day. Many of this year's vacationers will arrive a day or two later and still will go home Jan. 1 or Jan. 2, Skytta said.

The result has been that there are some awkward gaps in hotel and condominium booking calendars that are more difficult to fill. Those dates are being discounted in an effort to make sure rooms are as full as possible during the holidays, Skytta added.

Porter confirmed that he still has traditional hotel rooms available next week and last--minute reservations continue to trickle in. However, the luxury condominiums at the Sheraton's Morningside Tower are sold out for the entire week after Christmas.

Snowflower, with its location across the parking lot from the gondola, is expensive, but the property does not represent the top of the Steamboat condo market. It competes in a niche with properties such as The Dulany and Bronze Tree, Skytta said. During the period from Dec. 18 to 23, a two-bedroom condo at Snowflower is going for $525 a night, and a four-bedroom unit goes for $655 a night. The price goes up for arrivals beginning Thursday through Jan. 3, with the two-bedrooms renting for $695 and the larger units priced at $860.

However, travelers from the Front Range, for example, who can adjust their trips to fill one of the gaps in Snowflower's calendar, won't have to pay the full fare.

"We're discounting 30 to 50 percent," Skytta said. "If they'll fill four to five days, we offer the higher discount. That's income you'd never see otherwise."

Consumers can shop for holiday lodging bargains on the Internet at: www.discovercolorado.com/deals. Many of Steamboat's leading property management companies are offering discounts there for vacationers who can alter their dates to fill in the blanks in the calendar.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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