Steamboat lodging to bounce back from March letdown

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— After a particularly challenging March for Steamboat’s resort lodging industry, some executives are looking toward two-wheeled transportation to help drive summer bookings. Summer business takes on an especially important role this year given how the 2011-12 ski season came to a close.

The Resort Group’s Larry Mashaw said last week that his company has launched a mass email campaign promoting Steamboat as a bicycling destination this summer.

“We’re trying as a community to keep Bike Town USA in the forefront and we’re finding some good traction,” Mashaw said.

Mashaw is vice president of sales and marketing for Resort Group, which counts Mountain Resorts and Pioneer Ridge among its property management divisions.

“Summer is looking very strong,” Mashaw said. “We’re very excited about it.”

Steamboat lodging properties need a strong summer after a difficult wind-down to the ski season, when March ski vacation numbers wilted under temperatures that reached the high 60s. Mashaw told a Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association audience Wednesday that his colleagues in the local lodging industry realized there was little they could do to overcome the lack of a snow message and motivate people to book late-season ski vacations.

“The ski season got off to a good start, but then there was no snow, no snow and no snow. March was nothing short of brutal for most of us,” Mashaw said. “There was no snow message whatsoever.”

Here comes summer

Steamboat’s newer downtown lodging properties are gaining a following among people who view it as being the summer equivalent of a ski-in, ski-out condo, Mashaw said.

They like being able to “shop-in, shop-out,” he commented.

Mashaw said organized team sports events like Triple Crown baseball tournaments and the Mountain Youth Soccer Tournament are still vital to Steamboat’s summer season in part because families who travel here to take part in the tournaments tend to book six- or seven-night stays.

Cultural events from the Steamboat Wine Festival in August to the Strings Music Festival also are vital to summer tourism, he added.

However, Mashaw said, growing the number of independent travelers who visit Steamboat in the summer is critical to reaching the resort’s full potential.

Even when the town seems to be busy in the summer and U.S. Highway 40 hotels, for example, are at 90 percent occupancy, the mountain condos can still be just 50 to 60 percent full.

“There’s still a whole lot of room for growth,” Mashaw said.

To that end, he said, a committee is forming to talk about how to generate a larger and more stable source for summer marketing.

He told his audience of local business leaders that included bankers and real estate agents that the resort lodging community in Steamboat is trying to put the disappointing month of March 2012 behind it. In spite of weathering a season-long snow drought fairly well and thanks to group business that was booked by October 2011 — long before the dearth of snow was a reality — the last full month of ski season was a disappointment.

It could have been worse

The local lodging community came to the realization early in March that with the school holidays across the nation largely concentrated in a single week, and no hope for snow, there was no point in cutting rates beyond the 40 to 45 percent they were already offering.

In the first quarter of 2012, Mashaw said, lodging activity tracked city sales tax trends where general sales taxes were off 1.4 percent and lodging tax was off 6 percent. Rocky Mountain ski resorts, off less than 7 percent, outperformed resorts nationally, which were down more than 15 percent, according to the National Ski Areas Association, Mashaw said.

Within the Rocky Mountains, luxury lodging properties performed better than less expensive condos, and Steamboat’s lodging numbers, with a greater mix of resort accommodations targeting the middle of the range, probably lagged behind some more exclusive resorts for that reason, Mashaw said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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