Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel bellman Jonathan Klein, right, and bell captain Martin Dragnev help a guest with luggage Wednesday in the hotel's lobby. Karen Schneider, of the Grand, said Wednesday that fewer companies are booking conferences at the hotel. Ski Corp. President Chris Diamond said flight bookings are picking up.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel bellman Jonathan Klein, right, and bell captain Martin Dragnev help a guest with luggage Wednesday in the hotel's lobby. Karen Schneider, of the Grand, said Wednesday that fewer companies are booking conferences at the hotel. Ski Corp. President Chris Diamond said flight bookings are picking up.

Ski area leaving slow period

Diamond spoke about trends, future with panel at business breakfast

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— The Steamboat Ski Area is heading from a soft patch into a few solid weeks of visitors, Chris Diamond said Wednesday morning.

Diamond, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.'s president, spoke with four other business leaders at a Business Outlook Breakfast put on by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. In the coming weeks, flights are more than 80 percent booked, the highest since the after-Christmas period, he said. It's not unusual for the ski area to experience a lull at this time of year, Diamond added.

He expects the ski area to be down about 3 or 4 percent overall compared with the 2007-08 season. But he expects destination traveler numbers to be off 10 to 20 percent. Destination travelers are those who fly to Routt County or make an extended trip specific to this location rather than a day trip or shorter visit.

Bookings bounce up and down through the April 12 closing date, Diamond said.

"At the end of March, it's going to fall off a cliff - I'm not sure why," Diamond said. "Then in April, it picks back up."

Steamboat has gotten high marks from visitors in surveys, he said. But tourists have given resorts low marks for overall value. The ski area, like other businesses, is looking carefully at places where it can reduce prices.

Visitors are cutting back on retail spending and previously popular services such as children's ski lessons. The restaurants haven't taken much of a hit, Diamond said.

"What we're doing is right, and that's going to drive intent to return, and that's going to solidify business for next year," he said.

Although the ski industry is just one business in town, it affects all others, speakers said. Karen Schneider, of the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel, spoke about the hotel's conference business, Board of Realtors President Lori Thompson discussed real estate, Tom Fox of Fox Construction addressed his industry, and local Vectra Bank President Bob Kuusinen spoke about finance.

The Chamber has held a couple of other breakfasts this winter. Today's was the last until summer, Executive Vice President Sandy Evans Hall said.

"I think it's important to keep all this information out front," Evans Hall said.

Ups and downs

Some of that information is negative, though presenters tried to remain optimistic.

Fewer companies are booking conferences at the Grand, Schneider said. Groups are hunting for bargains and are taking longer to book, she said. And for the first time in Schneider's 30 years in the industry, luxury hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton are courting conference planners.

She said some companies were wary of creating an appearance of luxury, however.

"We are right in the middle of that," Schneider said. "We are not a Ritz, and we are not a Super 8, so we're in a good position."

Because conference planners are shopping, service is crucial, she said. The Grand has people interested for summer and winter, Schneider said.

"We are working with people who have had their budgets cut," she said. "We know that if we show them we care now, when their green light does turn on, they'll think of Steamboat and the Steamboat Grand."

Most people know real estate sales have slowed, Thompson said. There are 1,994 residences listed in the Multiple Listing Service, she said. There are 94 pending listings.

"Of those 94, we see that many of them are the downtown projects that have not closed yet," Thompson said. "So not very many pending sales yet."

She attributed the slowdown partly to a gap between sellers and buyers. Sellers are pricing high, Thompson said, and potential buyers are expecting major price cuts.

"Historically, we've seen the prices in Steamboat have continued to increase, and this year, in 2009, I think they'll start to stabilize," she said.

The builders of those homes are being battered, Fox said. News has been grim in construction. However, he said his company has three projects confirmed for spring. Fox hasn't been able to increase wages, but he hasn't had to cut them, either.

Contrary to local myth, Fox said, construction costs haven't decreased 30 or 40 percent. They're not going to, he said. Most material costs have been steady, and wages aren't decreasing, Fox said. The cut in costs is going to come from contractors' profits, he said. He expects building costs to decrease 8 to 15 percent.

People still want to build in Steamboat, he said.

"The reality of it is there appears to be some pent-up desire. ... We have an awful lot of people who are ready to go or getting themselves ready to go," Fox said.

Kuusinen addressed financing for many of those projects. It has been tougher to get, but mortgage rates are great, he said.

Kuusinen added some good news from the Front Range. He recently heard a talk by Tom Clark, executive vice president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation.

Clark "thinks that the Front Range will turn around in third quarter," Kuusinen said. "I'd love to see that, though he's probably paid to be optimistic."

Diamond said, as he has before, that he expects the next season or two to be challenging. He predicted that this season would set a standard after the boom of the past few.

"I would say for most of us in Steamboat, this is going to be kind of the base year," Diamond said. "I'm not counting on any gains in business going forward for next year, possibly two years. And of course the big question is, 'How fast are you going to come out of that?' And I'm not going to talk about that."

Comments

bubba 5 years, 2 months ago

I figured it was based on skier visits, which I would believe - 3-4% might be optimistic, but possible. They did say that destination visitors are accounting for less visits this year, which has everything to do with why everyone's revenues are down, but skier visits are a totally different thing. I know plenty of people who are working less and skiing more this year than last. A skier visit is a skier visit, even if it is a visit by an unemployed local who won't spend a penny more than the price of their pass at the mountain all year!

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housepoor 5 years, 2 months ago

Your right Bubba, the Bill Ritter Ski Team is out in force this year.

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 2 months ago

They always find a way to put out their best number. So one year they have said how international destination tourism is way up. Another year they have said how business is way up from this or that region of the US.

When they cite skier days as being down 3-4% then that means every other number is down more than that.

Flight bookings at 80% sounds great until you recall that package deals they had to offer to get those bookings. These tourists are discount hunters seeking value. Nothing wrong with that except for the higher end stores and restaurants.

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ybul 5 years, 2 months ago

In reality every cloud has a silver lining. There are plenty of opportunities today, no matter what happens, there will still be an economy. It takes looking at where the economy is going to take advantage of those opportunities.

They may simply move from building million dollar condos, to looking into how does the community retain those dollars that flow in via tourism. In addition, how can it utilize other resources to bring in more outside revenue, that does not detract from the elements that bring travelers here.

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