Steamboat Springs Every Steamboat Springs resident and visitor can help pump up the town during the recession, a lodging representative said last week.
Katy Martin, sales and marketing director at ResortQuest Steamboat Vacation Rentals, encouraged locals to write about Steamboat on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and online travel forums. She suggested that people submit photos to CNN and Denver newspapers when snow conditions are good.
"You can help get people talking about Steamboat Springs, and when people talk about Steamboat Springs, people will come," Martin said.
Martin offered her suggestions as part of a panel at Wednesday's Business Outlook Breakfast, put on by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. She spoke about lodging. Other speakers were Native Excavating owner Ed MacArthur; developer Jim Cook; Mike Poirot, marketing director for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.; and PJ Wharton, the new president of Yampa Valley Bank.
The panel offered views of Steamboat's current situation, predictions and suggestions to the packed house at Rex's American Grill & Bar.
MacArthur focused on construction in Steamboat. He said 2008 was far off from 2007, which was a banner year. It would be more appropriate to make comparisons to 2006, he said. For his excavating business, 2008 was down 15 percent compared to 2006. The company forecasts another drop in 2009.
His company typically can count on summer projects in a 150-mile radius if it doesn't find them at home, he said. That might change this year. For one water line project, 68 contractors submitted bids, MacArthur said.
Although he predicted the year would be tough, MacArthur saw a few silver linings. It's easier to corral good employees, for example, and housing is available for them. He predicted the downturn would be a good lesson for folks new to the construction business.
"Over the last five or six years, I've heard young contractors saying at meetings I've been at, 'Steamboat is never going to stop,'" MacArthur said. "Well, if you've been here a while, Steamboat does stop."
Cook, a developer with Colorado Group Realty, also sought to provide some perspective. He's been in the business about 42 years. It will take some time for Steamboat to come out of recession, Cook predicted.
"I think mid-2010 is probably a good target for all of us," he said. "It's going to be a challenging year, but I do think we'll survive it."
Those builders who have projects ready when the market picks up will be in good shape when people start buying, Cook said. Although times are tough for people seeking commercial loans, those who want to borrow for homes are in a good spot, he said.
"The reality is we have a better selection of inventory than we've ever had, and money's as cheap as it has been for 35 years," he said.
Cook stressed the importance of small businesses - noting that they employ 65 percent of the work force nationwide - and said Steamboat needs to send a positive message.
"The press has been one of the largest contributors, in my opinion, to our market nationwide," Cook said. "We need to change that. Perception is everything."
Martin's employer, ResortQuest, runs properties including Trappeur's Crossing Resort. The company is seeing a downturn, she said, but is doing a lot of discounting.
"At ResortQuest, Steamboat is forecasting we're going to be down for this season through the first quarter, and that may extend through the end of the year," she said.
The company had a better December than expected, Martin said.
"People are basically booking in very close," she said. "Consumers are driving the bus. : They're outright demanding deals right now."
One of the company's partners, LeisureLink, found that it takes properties two and a half times longer to generate bookings than in August, Martin said. For ski vacations, it takes four times as long.
People are hunting for deals, she said. About 65 percent of ski industry bookings are done at a discounted rate, Martin said she learned from LeisureLink.
"We've offered value-added programs," Martin said. "They work to an extent, but at the end of the day, they want bargains."
Ski Corp. also is seeing closer-in bookings, Poirot said.
"In our industry, we start looking first at the consumer confidence index," he said. "If anyone's seen some of the reports of consumer confidence, it's actually at an all-time low. It's bottomed out at 38."
That December figure is the lowest ever, according to the Conference Board, which does the survey. Consumer confidence hit 88 last year, Poirot said.
"That gives us some sense of where we are and what mountains we need to climb," he said.
The company, which runs the Steamboat Ski Area, is focusing on January through February, which Poirot said was a "softer period."
"We're not looking really far out," he said. "We're looking closer in on the advertising because that's how people are buying."
Wharton, who moved up from executive vice president at Yampa Valley Bank on Jan. 1, said bankers were watching the news as much as anyone else.
"The last few months have been an incredible study for me on the impacts of fear," he said.
He predicted that Steamboat was eight or 12 months into the downturn and would pull out in about a year. In the worst-case scenario, Wharton said, struggles could continue for 36 months.
Banking has changed and will continue to change, he said. Banks are more cautious because of regulators, their executives, reporting rules and other factors, he said.
"Going into a bank, expect verification for everything," Wharton said.
He also warned that now is a prime time for fraud. People must be on alert for scams, Wharton said.
But it's not all bad. Now is a perfect time to refinance, and interest rates on mortgages are falling, he said. People should go in and consult with their bankers. Customers have major negotiation power, Wharton said.
"You as a good customer are more valuable than you've ever been," he said. "Banks are going to clamor over each other to get you."
Wharton also reminded the crowd to appreciate the visitors who do unload their wallets into Steamboat's economy.
"We all need to love our tourists and thank them for coming," he said. "Wave at the stop sign when they turn left from the right lane."
- To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org