Data: Visitor numbers flat for Steamboat

Economic analyst says tourism numbers this season comparable to 2010-11


— A local group of data diggers is taking a new approach at figuring out how many people are visiting Steamboat Springs, and the results might be surprising.

An analysis done last week by Yampa Valley Data Partners volunteer Scott Ford shows that despite disappointing snowfall last winter, visitor numbers during the ski season were comparable to the 2010-11 season. Ford estimated the total number visitors each of the past two ski seasons at about 100,000.

“We may be down in skier visits, but what we’re not down is visitors to our fair city,” Ford said.

There are numerous sources of data that can be used to help determine the number of visitors coming to Steamboat, and Ford said using just one such source often fails to paint an accurate picture of tourist numbers.

The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association’s lodging barometer, for instance, does not detail the number of people staying in a unit or the number of days they are staying. Lodging tax revenues are difficult to compare because revenues vary if discounts are being offered by the lodging properties. And changes in sales tax revenues simply could reflect that the same number of visitors are spending more or less money.

Similarly, if the number of skier days at Steamboat Ski Area were released to the public, it might not directly correlate to the number of people visiting Steamboat, Ford said.

The National Ski Areas Association reported last week that skier visits were down 7.2 percent for the six-state Rocky Mountain region, a percentage lower than the nationwide decrease of 16 percent. Colorado figures have not been released, but Vail Resorts disclosed that visits were down 8.9 percent at its Colorado ski resorts of Keystone, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek and Vail.

In March, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Diamond said holiday skier visits were off as much as 20 percent but that the drop could be attributed to season pass holders who were waiting for better snow conditions.

Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO Tom Kern said a decrease in skier days this past season also could be attributed to visitors who instead of buying lift tickets for seven days might have purchased tickets for only four or five days.

“People were looking for other things to do,” Kern said. “What we have heard is that when you talk to retailers downtown, restaurants downtown, the winter season wasn’t epic, but it wasn’t reflective necessarily of the message that there weren’t a lot of people here.”

To gauge the number of visitors who came to Steamboat the past two ski seasons, Ford used a combination of publicly available numbers and some assumed figures, such as the number of days an average visitor spends in Steamboat. He did three separate breakdowns to compare the different results from December through March during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.

For the first analysis, Ford looked at the total number of people who got off planes at Yampa Valley Regional Airport and took into account an assumed number of local travelers as well as the percentage of visitors who arrived in Steamboat by means other than air travel. With a slight increase in the number of people who got off planes this past ski season, Ford estimated that overall visitor numbers were up about 1 percent over the previous year.

For the second analysis, Ford looked at lodging tax collections and calculated there were 153,022 room nights sold this past season compared to 158,883 in the 2010-11 season. Taking into account the average length of stay, the average family size and the number of people who stay with friends and family, Ford estimated there were 100,892 visitors this past ski season compared to 104,757 in 2010-11.

Finally, Ford used sales tax revenues and the average dollars spent per visitor, a number that was estimated by Ski Corp. Using that analysis, Ford found there were 106,253 visitors this past season compared to 105,400 in 2010-11.

Ford said the average of the three breakdowns showed there were 98,914 visitors this past season and 99,579 in 2010-11.

“The evidence points to that there was not a meaningful change in the number of visitors between the two ski seasons,” Ford said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email


John St Pierre 4 years ago

In regards to Lodging tax being hard to track here is another consideration... several major properties in town particpate in "points" programs... where people "buy" points and use them to stay at properties thru-out the country and world.... RCI as an example also the major player here is also doing the same.... this is the new alternative to time share... in fact many owners are being urged to convert their ownership to points "for a fee"....... thing is when people use the points the local properties do not charge lodging tax.... the city and county get nothing.... Hopefully the city will catch on to this...


Scott Ford 4 years ago

To Everyone – I am often guilty of getting way too detailed. Those of you that know me well – know that if you ask me the time I will sometimes try and tell you how the watch is made.

The analysis done by Yampa Valley Data Partners regarding winter visitations is not so precise that we can tell exactly how many visitors came to town – so I apologize for not rounding the numbers to the nearest 5,000. The key point is not the exact number but rather a comparison of the magnitude of the difference between the estimated numbers of visitors 2010/11 to 2011/12 ski seasons.

It is likely sufficient to say that the number of visitors that came to town last ski season was about same as the prior season.

In addition, a good friend reminded me this morning of something I have often said, “We need to be careful that we do not torture data beyond what they can tell us. If we torture numbers long enough we can make them say anything.”


Scott Ford 4 years ago

HI John – You have a very good point. We are working on a visitor forecasting model that recognizes what can best be characterized as Family/Friends/Timeshares (FFT). During the ski season it appears that between 15 and 20% of the visitors to the area are staying in/with FFT. In the summer months the FFT factor may be as high as 40 to 50%.

I think we are moving (drifting) toward a better way to forecast the number of visitors that come to Steamboat Springs annually by season. No methodology is perfect but using lodging property occupancy percentages is such a flawed methodology it is likely doing more harm than good.

I think locally we largely ignore the estimate of the number of visitors from week to week reported in the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association Lodging Barometer. Local businesses ignore the specific number and pay closer attention to the comparison of occupancy rate for the same time period year over year.

The harm occurs when folks from outside the area use the estimated number of visitors coming to Steamboat Springs and make business decisions on that data. For example, if one just used the estimated number of visitors published by the Steamboat Pilot based on the Lodging Barometer one would conclude that there are between 450,000 and 600,000 visitors to coming to Steamboat Springs annually. Of course with this many people coming to the area we obviously need 2 or 3 more coffee shops because we are an underserved market. Right?

The number of visitors the data independent of occupancy percentage reports supports is an annual number somewhere between 280,000 and 330,000. Likely Allocation by Season – Winter (Dec-Mar) = 46% Summer (Jun-Sep) = 37% Shoulders (Apr/May & Oct/Nov) = 17%

It is important for us to get this number reasonably right – not for ourselves but for others outside of the area evaluating business opporuunties here.


Melanie Turek 4 years ago

Hi Scott. I have a question for you. The article says, "For the second analysis, Ford looked at lodging tax collections and calculated there were 153,022 room nights sold this past season compared to 158,883 in the 2010-11 season. Taking into account the average length of stay, the average family size and the number of people who stay with friends and family, Ford estimated there were 100,892 visitors this past ski season compared to 104,757 in 2010-11." How can the number of room nights be greater than the number of visitors?


Scott Ford 4 years ago

Hi Melanie - Great question. We are sometime guilty of tossing around terms without taking the time to define them.

A room night is defined as a room/unit that was rented for one night. If for example, a person rented a room for a full week, there would be 7 room nights, however, there would only be one visitor in town associated with those room nights.


Melanie Turek 4 years ago

Got it Scott. Thanks for the explanation, and for doing all this hard work!


Matt Stensland 4 years ago

It appears we forgot to post the document Scott Ford provided, which provides his analysis. It is now posted with this story.

Matt Stensland Reporter/Photographer Steamboat Pilot & Today 1901 Curve Plaza P.O. Box 774827 Steamboat Springs, CO 80477 970-871-4247


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