Steamboat Springs Consumer confidence nose-dived to an all-time low in February, an unwelcome sign for ski industry heavyweights who watch the index to gauge demand.
The consumer confidence index was at 25 for the month, falling from 37.4 in January. The Conference Board started measuring the index in 1967, and it was at 100 in 1985.
Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, attributed the decrease partly to concerns about business conditions, employment and earnings.
"In addition, inflation expectations, which had been easing over the past several months, have moderately picked up," Franco said in a news release. "All in all, not only do consumers feel overall economic conditions have grown more dire, but just as disconcerting, they anticipate no improvement in conditions over the next six months."
Those feelings could have a direct local impact.
Andy Wirth, chief marketing officer for Intrawest, has said consumer confidence influences travel patterns in Steamboat. Intrawest is the parent company of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., and Wirth led sales and marketing here before moving up. He did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment on the latest numbers.
Despite consumer concerns, Steamboat's lodging and airplane flight loads have been solid in the past week.
The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association released its weekly lodging barometer Wednesday. It showed that local lodging was expected to be at 82 percent March 14. The actual number was 86 percent, or 13,000 people.
On March 15, 2008, lodging was 98 percent full, accommodating 14,700 people. The weekend saw an 11.6 percent year-over-year decrease.
"It's not as bad as it could be," said Sandy Evans Hall, Chamber executive vice president.
Yampa Valley Regional Airport also is coming off a strong week. According to YVRA information, inbound flights were 96 percent full Saturday. Outbound flights this weekend are expected to be 88 percent to 90 percent full, Airport Manager Dave Ruppel said.
"What we're seeing this weekend in the outbound is the spring break folks leaving and that kind of thing," Ruppel said.
But from there, the numbers soften.
The Chamber's barometer indicates that lodging will be 63 percent full Saturday, compared with 90 percent for the same Saturday last year. It's expected to be 58 percent full March 25 and then 57 percent full March 28.
"We do have NASTAR here that weekend, and that will help that last week," Evans Hall said.
At the airport, load levels for incoming flights start dropping off. They range from 50 percent to 64 percent Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Ruppel said. The next weekend, flights are 31 percent to 38 percent full.
Some slowdown is normal in late March and April, Ruppel said.
"That is pretty standard year to year, unless we have really incredible snow," he said.
Ruppel said he was pleased with the season at YVRA.
"We've had a good year as far as the facility is concerned," he said. "People seem to be really happy with how that's worked. We've gotten a lot of good comments about how people like coming into the facility and feel it's a quality facility that they enjoy. That's what our goal has always been."
Around the industry
The Mountain Travel Research Program released its data for the season Wednesday. The group, known as MTRiP, collects information from 216 property management companies in 15 mountain communities in Colorado, Utah, California and British Columbia - including Steamboat Springs.
Information for the 2008-09 ski season shows total occupancy down 16.3 percent to date compared with the previous season. As of the end of February, occupancy for March was down 25 percent, and daily room rates were down 12 percent, MTRiP reported.
"At this time of year, booking momentum slows dramatically," research director Ralf Garrison said in the release.
February occupancy was 54.5 percent compared with 63.9 percent in February 2008, the group reported.
Steamboat tourism industry folks still hope to snag visitors with spring deals, Evans Hall said. Garrison alluded to that in his comments.
"The potential for last-minute bookings from 'short-haul' overnight guests still offers some positive prospects for resorts and lodging properties, but this trend, first observed in December, does not appear to have the same momentum as the season winds down," Garrison said.
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