Weak weekend forecast in Steamboat

More visitors expected at month’s end; lodging rates are down

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— The resort community will endure a weak spot in the March calendar this weekend, but tourism could be closer to normal March 13 to 14, and there’s one more crescendo to come the weekend of March 27 to 28.

“This weekend is a soft one for us,” said Mike Lomas, vice president and general manager at The Steamboat Grand. “But by March 12, we’ll be very busy.”

The lodging barometer published by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Ass­o­ciation forecasts that 11,105 visitors will stay in Ste­­a­­m­boat tonight, down more than 800 from the corresponding Saturday in 2009.

Barbara Robinson, general manager of the Holiday Inn of Steamboat Springs, said last-minute bookings have helped her property in the past few weeks. The lodging barometer’s prediction that U.S. Highway 40 hotels would be 68 percent full underestimated that effect Feb. 27, when occupancy jumped to 92 percent.

“We had some rooms as of midweek, but we got really busy at the last minute,” Robinson said.

Contributing factors for the highway hotels include youth sporting events such as hockey tournaments, which can push several properties to capacity, and even airline cancellations, she added.

“We were almost full last week when one of the airlines called and said they needed 23 rooms,” Robinson said.

The early glimpse of March 13 already anticipates that more than 12,000 visitors will be in town that night, but the number still is well below the 13,480 who had booked a reservation for the same Saturday in 2009.

Another factor in the resort lodging business is that condos and hotel rooms are being substantially discounted. The Aspen Times reported this month that the average daily room rate in Aspen was off 6 percent for January.

Average daily room rates were down close to 6 percent in Steamboat in the high-demand month of December, the most recent month for which data could be found Friday.

Lomas said Steamboat’s average daily room rate was $182 in December, according to the Rocky Mountain Lodging Report. That’s off from $192.40 in December 2008, according to the report. The lodging report is compiled by Ehrhardt Keefe Steiner & Hottman PC in cooperation with the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, Robert S. Benton & Associates and W.R. Hopping & Co.

Lomas said he was certain that room rates in Steamboat were being discounted more steeply during the season than the 6 percent reported for Aspen. And the discounted rates are being reflected in sales tax receipts that fund local government, he added.

“We’re still getting a lot of late bookings,” Lomas said. “We just had our weekly yield meeting, and March is still definitely in play. The phone is still ringing for March, which is a godsend.”

The lodging barometer projects that mountain hotels such as the Grand will be 64 percent full tonight compared with 73 percent on the same weekend last year. Lomas said his hotel would have a higher occupancy rate this weekend than 64 percent but acknowledged that a soft spot in March has been a historic rarity.

“In the good old days, we would have been booked solid,” he said.

The good old days may have been as recent as March 2008, when lodging properties were nearly full for the first weekend in March and again March 16 to 17 before the winter season dropped off dramatically after St. Patrick’s Day.

Historic comparisons to different weekends in March are complicated by the fact that spring break dates at large public school districts across the country vary from year to year.

The seasonal resort forecast compiled by the Chamber and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. projects that tourism will bounce up at the end of the month and hit 50 percent occupancy at a time when levels had dipped to 30 percent in 2009 and 2008.

Robinson said her hotel would do strong business each of the next two weekends, and she’s already optimistic about the pace of summer bookings.

“Triple Crown (baseball families) have been calling for the last month,” she said. “I expect we’ll see a positive swing this summer.”

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