Resort officials hope last-minute booking trend holds true

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— Local resort officials are hoping Front Range families balanced their checkbooks this week and have something left over for a holiday trip to Steamboat Springs.

Chamber Resort Association Marketing Director Lynna Broyles said Wednesday that she has the definite impression Colorado families waited until the end of June before deciding whether they could afford a getaway to the mountains.

"In some cases, I think they're looking for reasons not to come," Broyles said, adding that families are making a spontaneous decision at the last minute, depending on their checkbook, to jump in the car.

Broyles counters with 50 reasons why people should book a room and point the family car toward Rabbit Ears Pass - a select few vacationers who respond to an ad running periodically in The Denver Post are invited to show up at the Chamber offices and collect a $50 bill.

"We hope they'll use it to splurge and treat themselves to a spa treatment or buy that bottle of wine with dinner at a restaurant," she said.

The lodging barometer compiled by the Chamber anticipates 9,600 people will spend Saturday night in guest lodging - enough to occupy 69 percent of Steamboat's 17,281 guest pillows.

The barometer is not a scientific survey, but it gives a good early read on weekend tourism. And data from 2008 suggests there could be a significant last-minute tourism buildup between now and Saturday. The Wednesday forecast last year projected 9,200 people in town - July 4 fell on a Friday last year - but the actual number grew to 11,000.

Broyles said summer visitors historically have booked closer to the date of arrival than winter visitors. When ski vacationers booked closer to their arrival date before last winter, it was a heads-up that this summer's visitors would wait until the last minute.

The wild card in this weekend's tourism outlook is the unknown impact of July 4 falling on the weekend.

Broyles said the $50 promotion run by the Chamber this summer isn't geared to drive large visitation numbers but instead to increase awareness of Steamboat. It requires qualifying visitors to call and make reservations within three days of publication in the Post's Sunday travel section. They must book two nights, receiving a free night in return, and purchase a buy-one, get-one free gondola ride.

Broyles committed $3,000 of her budget to the program, enough to hand out 60 portraits of Ulysses S. Grant. Thus far, she has used exactly half that number. She feels certain that the people who have responded are people who weren't previously planning to vacation in Steamboat.

"I don't think I'm diluting," the number of people who were intent on coming to Steamboat anyway, Broyles said. "I think they wouldn't have come otherwise."

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