Visitor Andrew Fenet is helped by Kristen Willie while checking in at the Steamboat Grand earlier this week. Bookings for the holidays are down by about 15 percent, which is a smaller difference than what has been projected for the holidays.

Visitor Andrew Fenet is helped by Kristen Willie while checking in at the Steamboat Grand earlier this week. Bookings for the holidays are down by about 15 percent, which is a smaller difference than what has been projected for the holidays.

Fewer guests expected for the holidays

Early figures show 15 percent drop in bookings; officials say calls still coming in

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— It's too bad reindeer don't ski. If they did, maybe Dasher and Dancer could boost Steamboat Springs' holiday lodging books.

As Christmas approaches, the latest figures show that local lodging bookings are down by about 15 percent, compared with 2007. Still, visitors are pushing forward with late bookings, observers said, and some spots will be packed to the gills for the holidays.

The 15-percent dip is apparent on the Saturday after Christmas, when 80 percent of hotel and lodging pillows will be occupied, according to the weekly forecast from the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. However, the numbers don't reflect last-minute bookings, said Sandy Evans Hall, Chamber executive vice president.

"We're still seeing the phones ringing," she said Thursday. "Again, that's two weeks out, so we will see that 80 percent come up when we get to next week."

Rob Perlman, vice president of sales and marketing at Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., noted the trend toward last-minute bookings during a breakfast last week. Numbers have improved steadily since September and October, he said.

"We were off as much as 40 percent in terms of reservations (compared with) last year," Perlman said. "We've come back to a great degree. For the month of December, we're up to 15 percent off, and that doesn't count people who have booked in the past two weeks."

Steamboat Central Reservations still was getting calls for Christmas last week, he said, which is unusual.

The Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel, which Ski Corp. manages, still had rooms available for the holidays last week, spokesman Mike Lane said.

"They're building good momentum through this weekend and then things get comfortably busy from Christmas into the new year, Jan. 2 or 3," Lane said. "For the rest of January, things look to stay fairly busy, with a lot of groups coming through that month."

Smaller properties

The Holiday Inn's 82 rooms are full for Christmas, General Manager Barbara Robinson said. She attributed that partly to Ski Corp.'s promotions and lower airfares to Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden.

"We are very optimistic, like I said, to where the whole town will do really well for Christmas," Robinson said.

Airfares have declined dramatically, she said.

"Six months ago, they were very high," Robinson said. "It looked very discouraging for winter. Now that they're back to normal levels or even lower : it really makes people travel; it really helps."

Ski Corp. has worked closely with the airlines that fly to YVRA to get fares reduced, officials have said.

Greg Koehler, who owns Rabbit Ears Motel downtown, said his bookings weren't down compared with 2007.

"I'm : cautiously optimistic," Koehler said. "For instance, I'm sold out right now ... to the

24th. And we do have openings on the 25th and 26th, and we're really busy again up through the first."

The 66-room Rabbit Ears typically is more of a short-term, closer-in booking property, he said. Koehler also praised Ski Corp.'s deals and marketing.

"Everybody's trying to get the best deal they can, and the Ski Corp. certainly has helped considerably," he said. "I think they've brought a lot of people to town with their skiing package."

The Chamber's lodging committee also is attuned to the situation, Robinson said. That panel aims to attract visitors by increasing perks.

"The lodging committee works very closely together at our lodging meetings to see what we can do to encourage people to book in Steamboat as opposed to other places," she said. "We really prefer to do it with added value promotions : rather than discounts."

Prices are dropping, however, the Mountain Travel Research Program stated in a release.

The group monitors ski resorts by surveying 216 property management companies in 15 mountain resorts in the western United States and Canada. Steamboat Springs participates in the program.

"As consumer spending slowed, retail prices began dropping, leisure travel discounts appeared, and the price of ski resort lodging decreased 4.6 percent for November," the group's Mountain Travel Monitor stated.

Planning ahead

The Chamber has added a feature to its weekly lodging forecast, an early indication for a couple of weekends ahead. For Jan. 3, 47 percent of the pillows at Steamboat's lodging properties are occupied.

"You'll be able to watch that number grow as we move closer in," Evans Hall said. "We're just giving people a little bit of a look farther out."

The Chamber also plans to have more deals. The agency aims to start an online discount program for visitors after Jan. 1, Evans Hall said. People will be able to visit the Chamber's site to get money off at restaurants, shops and other businesses, she said.

Although tourism officials and folks at lodging properties are concerned about the ski season, few seem to be panicking.

"I have been really pleased with the tracking so far," Evans Hall said. "You notice where we are compared to '07 : and we're not that far off. Even though it was looking very glum a couple of weeks ago - a couple of months ago - it's coming in."

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