Summer tourism slacks

Biggest dips expected down the road

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Joseph Aque, 10, of Staten Island, N.Y., enjoys a ride on the Slingshot Bungee Jump in Gondola Square at the Steamboat Ski Area on Thursday afternoon.

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Cars painted and decorated for the Triple Crown series line the streets in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday afternoon. Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said there have been fewer Triple Crown baseball teams in town the past three weeks, compared with last summer.

Ski Time Square sales

Sales tax collected in Ski Time Square, which is expected to be without commercial businesses for three years beginning summer 2008 while it is demolished and redeveloped:

May 2007 - $6,517

April 2007 - $23,452

March 2007 - $123,204

Feb. 2007 - $109,047

Jan. 2007 - $112,500

Dec. 2006 - $96,422

Nov. 2006 - $18,900

Oct. 2006 - $14,408

Sept. 2006 - $23,130

Aug. 2006 - $30,533

July 2006 - $40,680

June 2006 - $23,300

— Tourism is a bit off from a big summer last year, a trend some expect to continue as long as ongoing construction projects discourage summer visitors.

Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said the city might suffer a loss of return visitors as tourists this year see the construction and may decide to wait a couple years before returning.

"If they didn't know about (the construction) before they came, they certainly do now," Evans Hall said.

After a June that was mostly in line with the year earlier, tourism has lagged throughout July, according to an informal lodging poll conducted by the Chamber. The Chamber's weekly Lodging Barometer is a nonscientific poll meant to help property managers and restaurant owners gauge their staffing needs.

According to the latest barometer, 8,900 guests are expected in town Wednesday, compared with 9,300 projected for the same Wednesday last year, and 11,400 are expected Saturday, compared with 12,000 projected for the same Saturday last year.

Those drops are modest compared to some other weeks earlier this month, when guest projections were down close to 2,000.

Evans Hall said the timing of the summer's biggest holiday played a role in reducing tourism this summer.

"Because the Fourth was on a Wednesday this year, we knew it was going to be off a little bit," she said.

The Fourth of July the next three years is Friday, Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Evans Hall also said there have been fewer Triple Crown baseball teams in town the past three weeks, compared with last summer.

"We're definitely down," said Bob Milne, president of Steamboat Resorts. "No question about it."

Milne said he has noticed the drop in Triple Crown teams and suspects gas prices may be contributing to the lag in summer tourism. Milne said construction has also hurt business and that he has issued some refunds due to construction noise. Businesses have noticed the dip.

"I'm the neighborhood convenience store," said Erich Esswein, owner of the Steamboat Trading Co. in Ski Time Square. "If my neighborhood's empty, I'm not doing much business."

While numbers may be down this summer, last summer is a tough year to beat.

"Last year was such an incredible year," Evans Hall said. "All the stars were in line."

Evans Hall said last summer was Steamboat's "best ever" and this summer may be the second best. Milne called last summer a "killer year" and said this year is still better than two summers ago.

Also, while the lodging barometer projections have been down, Evans Hall said the actual number of guests has been much closer to last year. The barometer is based on reservations made by each Wednesday, and Evans Hall said there have been many last-minute bookings later in the week. For example, the barometer projected 68 percent occupancy for Saturday, July 7, but the actual number turned out to be 80 percent. But that was still 6 percent lower than Saturday, July 8, 2006.

While Triple Crown has been bringing fewer teams to town each week, Evans Hall said the total number of teams will be about the same because Triple Crown has added a fourth week of tournaments this year.

Evans Hall said construction projects' effect on tourism has yet to be felt.

"The impacts will be much more visible next year," she said.

Evans Hall said tax revenues in Vail went way down during a round of construction similar to the one Steamboat faces now.

In addition to return visitors deciding to wait a couple years until construction is complete, the city also stands to lose sales tax from existing businesses being displaced. Developers' plans to demolish and redevelop Ski Time Square, for example, are slated to begin next year and not be complete until 2011. In 2006, the city collected $622,865, or 3.4 percent of its sales tax totals, from Ski Time Square businesses.

Milne said the community is prepared for the downturn.

"As a community, we're all going to have to deal with some challenges," Milne said. "But in the long run, it will be worth it."

Evans Hall said Steamboat will make it through all the construction in good shape and said it will be key for businesses to be friendly and go out of their way to lessen the impact of construction projects on customers. While a challenge, Evans Hall said all the development also poses an opportunity.

"The opportunity is telling the story of what's coming," she said.

Milne said he doesn't expect a similar drop off in business in upcoming winters, when construction projects are dormant. Andy Wirth, executive vice president of sales and marketing and chief marketing officer of Intrawest, owner of the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., agreed.

"The construction is actually evidence that supports our promises," Wirth said. "In some cases, it's not going to be the most attractive stuff in the world, but it's evidence of what's to come."

Wirth said Ski Corp. will work to help guests navigate the construction, while also creating buzz about the future.

"The positive momentum is absolutely squashing whatever negative is out there," Wirth said.

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