A week’s worth of moderate snow accumulation is great from a public relations perspective, but for a real barometer of this ski season’s tourism outlook, look no further than three of the nation’s leading consumer confidence indexes.
For that matter, Andy Wirth would trade all the Denver Broncos’ Monday Night Football appearances — valued for their sure-fire footage of snowy Colorado ski slopes — for a Consumer Confidence Index above 65. It’s not there yet, but trends point to a continued gradual increase in how U.S. consumers feel about the economy and their appetite for spending.
Wirth is Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. During a Friday presentation to members of the local business community, he said Steamboat is positioned “very favorably” in the marketplace, particularly as it relates to the resort’s competition.
Nonetheless, Wirth noted that the next 60 days will be critical for the ski resort and, presumably, most of the area businesses that thrive on winter tourism.
“We still have a long way to go,” Wirth said after telling the Business Outlook Breakfast audience at Rex’s American Grill and Bar that between 55 and 58 percent of the ski area’s season was already on the books.
That means a little more than half of the expected vacations for the 2009-10 season have already been booked through the ski area’s Steamboat Central Reservations travel center.
Wirth said Ski Corp. will continue to closely monitor the Consumer Confidence Index, knowing that there’s usually a direct correlation between the index rating and the pace of vacation bookings.
November’s confidence index was at 49.5, up from 48.7 in October. The index was at 25 in February and 54.1 in August. The Consumer Confidence Index is published by The Conference Board, a nonprofit research organization.
The index measures consumers’ feelings about the economy and is valued for its ability to forecast when Americans are confident enough in the economy to start spending their money.
Wirth said Ski Corp. also pays close attention to two other leading consumer confidence indexes — the Rasmussen Consumer Index and the Reuters/University of Michigan Survey of Consumers.
Wirth said this week’s occupancy forecast looks particularly strong, with bookings up 10 to 15 percent from the corresponding week in 2008. Wirth said he expects December bookings to finish between 8 and 10 percent ahead of December 2008.
But Wirth and others cautioned the business community from expecting a corresponding increase in revenues. Lodging occupancy reports can’t forecast consumer spending, Wirth said.
“How they spend is going to be a different deal. … It’s going to take a lot to get that consumer to spend like they have before,” he said.
One of the factors hurting business revenues — particularly for lodging properties — is the significant discounting taking place to get vacationers here in the first place.
Steve Frasier, president of Mountain Resorts property management company, told Friday’s audience that revenues for his company are down, with discounted room rates playing a significant role. One reason this week’s lodging bookings are up, Frasier said, is because travelers are shopping for deals. Instead of spending more money on a trip during high-priced Christmas week, many have opted to come the week before and take advantage of lower rates.
On the bright side, Frasier said people are nonetheless booking trips to Steamboat Springs, as evidenced by full planeloads into Yampa Valley Regional Airport for much of December.
Selling the brand
Frasier, Wirth and Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association executive vice president Sandy Evans Hall urged businesses to focus on the customer experience and pointed to hospitality programs such as Steamboat Genuine and Spurs on Service as means for making sure visitors enjoy their time in Steamboat and come back again in future years.
Wirth said a new weekly “effective occupancy report” published for Chamber members specifically is geared toward helping area businesses prepare for busier times. By paying attention to the reports, businesses will know when to increase staffing to meet customer demands and, in turn, ensure a positive customer experience.
That Steamboat brand, punctuated by the community’s reputation for Western friendliness, is what sets us apart from the competition, they said.
“We are in challenging times,” Wirth said. “I know for a fact that our brand is so well positioned in the marketplace.
“From a competitive perspective, we’re looking pretty darn good.”