New tourism gauge to extend forecasts

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— A new tourism barometer will provide visitor forecasts three months in advance for local businesses and members of the lodging industry.

The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association is partnering with Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. on the project, which is slated to issue its first release Wednesday. Chamber Executive Vice President Sandy Evans Hall said the Chamber’s traditional lodging barometer, which provides a nine-day forecast of expected guest numbers, will not change.

But it now will be accompanied by a long-term forecast that combines additional factors — including airline bookings at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, Ski Corp.’s Central Reservations figures and group bookings — with historical data to project the amount of visitors to Steamboat Springs weeks in advance and in some cases, on particular days.

“Especially in this economy, I think the more tools we give the businesses, the better,” Evans Hall said about the new 90-day forecast. “We don’t want anybody caught off guard, and sometimes, the nine days is not long enough for businesses to be able to react.”

The new feature initially will be available to all Chamber members in an e-mail and Internet link format, Evans Hall said, but ultimately, it will be available only to Chamber members above the base level of membership. She estimated that a base-level membership costs about $275 annually, and an upgrade to receive the new forecasts would cost about $125.

“We see it as an incentive to maybe update their membership,” Evans Hall said.

Andy Wirth, Ski Corp. senior vice president of sales and marketing, said the new “effective lodging” tool will estimate not just local hotel guests, but also visitors in vacation home rentals, second homes, other lodging options and even those staying with friends and family.

“We think it takes into account all the places people can stay,” Wirth said, adding that data and trends from the past three years are involved in most of the calculations.

Wirth said bookings for mid-December are positive, despite the down economy.

“The two weeks leading into Christ­mas are looking quite good,” Wirth said, adding that local businesses likely can expect those weekends to be “relatively busy.”

“The key word there is ‘relatively,’” he said.

Wirth said “there’s no question” that discounted airfares and lodging are driving the favorable booking numbers.

“There’s not a single (property) management company in town that’s not doing what can be called significant discounting,” he said. “If you see a property manager in this town, hug ’em.”

Wirth and Evans Hall noted that the new lodging tool does not predict spending, only volume of visitors, and they said the multiple variables involved are exactly that — variables.

“We reserve the right to be wrong,” Wirth cautioned, saying businesses and the lodging industry should use the forecasts as a guiding tool rather than a certainty.

“It doesn’t forecast the weather,” added Evans Hall.

Blythe Terrell contributed to this story.

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