Lodging demand returns in Steamboat
Research director: Occupancy trending upward for summer; resorts rebounding
May 21, 2010
For more coverage of Economic Summit events, see Sunday's Steamboat Pilot & Today or visit http://www.steamboatpilo…
Steamboat Springs — The director of a research firm that has a long relationship with Steamboat Springs said Thursday that the resort lodging industry is showing signs of a rebound this year, mirroring national upward trends projected to continue this summer and into 2011.
"We're starting to see that demand is coming back and occupancy is coming back," RRC Associates Director David Belin said during Economic Summit 2010 at The Steamboat Grand.
Nationwide occupancy rates have been climbing slowly this year, he said.
"For the week ending May 15, (nationwide) occupancy was again up 4.4 percent from the same week the year before," Belin said. "The fact that we're seeing occupancy come back is a very positive sign, because hopefully, it means (increased average daily room rates) will be following."
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He said resort hotels are showing "a fairly similar pattern" to national lodging trends.
That's potential good news for an industry that suffered through a bruising 2009 across the nation and in Steamboat, where lodging tax revenues dipped 23.4 percent compared to 2008. The average 2009 lodging tax drop among 17 Colorado mountain resort communities, including Steamboat, was 19.1 percent, according to RRC research.
Many local lodging properties offered significantly discounted room rates during the winter in an effort to drive business during the recession. Belin said those discounts factored into decreased tax revenues.
"It's sort of a double whammy when you have to lower your rates and you have lower occupancy," he said.
Steamboat also fared worse than those mountain resort communities in 2009 sales tax revenues, which dipped 16.7 percent here compared to the 12.3 percent regional average.
"Steamboat, you had the largest decline of all these towns," Belin said, pointing to sales tax figures in resort communities ranging from Aspen and Avon to Vail and Winter Park.
Local sales tax figures could improve if increased lodging trends play out in Steamboat Springs. Citing figures and trend forecasts from the U.S. Travel Association, Belin said this summer's occupancy rates are projected to increase 2.2 percent compared to summer 2009, and total nationwide travel expenditures could increase 10 percent in 2011.
"Everything is projected to be more positive in 2011," Belin said. "Business travel is coming back, leisure travel is coming back."
The good word
Boulder-based RRC Associates has worked with the city for years on projects including affordable housing issues in 2006, a survey asking residents about city services in 2002, and more.
Belin said RRC led a survey of about 3,000 people on the slopes at Steamboat Ski Area this winter, to acquire a "net promoter score" that gauges word-of-mouth trends. Those surveyed were asked one question — how likely they would be to recommend a Steamboat vacation to a friend — and asked to give their answer on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most positive response. Eighty-five percent of respondents on Steamboat slopes in 2009-10 said "nine" or "10," Belin said, while 3 percent gave an answer of six or lower. Subtracting the 3 percent of "detractors" from the 85 percent of "promoters," he said, gave Steamboat a net score of 82 percent.
Belin said of the RRC surveys conducted at 85 to 90 ski resorts, a score of 83 percent or above placed a resort in the top quarter of those surveyed. A score below 60 percent represents the lowest-performing quarter, he said.
He said Steamboat had a net promoter score of 80 percent in 2008-09 and 79 percent in 2007-08.
Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said this season's 82 percent score is a great reflection of the ski area. Steamboat saw below-average snow this year and is working through ongoing base area construction and the continued vacancy of base area properties including Ski Time Square.
"I think it's an excellent indicator of what makes us Ski Town USA," Kasten said. "We continued to raise our customer service experience, even with everything going on around us."
Thursday's events concluded this year's Economic Summit. Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said one overriding lesson from the event is that consumers are moving away from glitzy excess and are now more attracted to sustainable, quality values.
"I think everybody needs to focus on that," she said.