Fresh off the heels of the strongest holiday period for hotel occupancy since at least 2006, Aspen and Snowmass Village are building healthy numbers for most of the remainder of the season, according to lodging-industry officials.
Aspen’s lodging industry had its strongest five-day stretch ever during the Christmas and New Year’s Day period since sophisticated data started being collected in 2006, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central bookings agency.
Aspen’s occupancy was 96 percent or greater from Dec. 27 through 31 and peaked at 97 percent on Dec. 28, he said.
In Snowmass Village, occupancy was at least 92 percent for four straight days and hit a peak of 94 percent on Dec. 27.
“No matter how you measure it, this was a really solid week for Aspen and Snowmass, and for the month overall, Aspen’s paid occupancies in December were 9.3 percent stronger than last year, and Snowmass’ paid occupancies were 15.9 percent stronger than last year,” Tomcich informed members of Stay Aspen Snowmass in an email.
Joe Raczak, general manager of the North of Nell Condominiums, said travelers responded to great snow conditions. His condos were fully occupied for two weeks during Christmas and New Year’s Day.
“December was great. Off the chart,” Raczak said. “After two bad years, we had a lot of pent-up demand.”
Ralf Garrison, director of Denver-based DestiMetrics, said destination resorts such as Aspen are benefiting from “snow equity” — great snow conditions at the end of last season. Most destination travelers have to plan vacations months in advance. When the economy is reasonably strong and there was good snow to end the prior season, they are more likely to book a ski trip, he said.
DestiMetrics is a company that collects and analyzes occupancy and reservation data for numerous resorts in the western U.S.
In general, Garrison said, destination travelers coming from out of state for an overnight trip are more dependent on the economy and less dependent on current snow conditions.
“It’s the local and regional skier that’s Pavlovian dog to the snow,” he said.
The second-home owners of Aspen-Snowmass are somewhat of a hybrid. They will react to current snow conditions more than destination travelers who stay in a hotel or lodge.
So are the strong numbers over the holidays a harbinger for the rest of the season? Tomcich said February and March look very strong in advance reservations compared with this time last season. January’s outlook isn’t as rosy. The business on the books for January, as of the end of December, is about even to the same point during the 2012-13 season, according to DestiMetrics.
The January occupancy rate for Aspen was at 66.3 percent at the end of December compared with 65.3 percent last season, DestiMetrics reported.
Australians are the missing ingredients this season. During the recession, Australian tourists inundated Aspen and Snowmass, especially in January when their schools were on break. The number of Aussies has sagged in recent seasons because of a less favorable exchange rate coupled with aggressive marketing by resorts in Japan and Canada, according to Tomcich and Raczak.
Raczak said his once-strong business from Australia will drop 25 percent in January compared with the same month last year, and that was down 25 percent from the year before. He said peers in the accommodations industry have reported similar numbers.
“January is going to be a disappointment in town,” Raczak predicted.
The silver lining for him is the strength of February and March at North of Nell. Tomcich said Aspen and Snowmass Village as a whole are looking at strong months in February and March.
He said expanded promotions from Aspen Skiing Co. are helping to drive business. One special package called the Perfect Storm was extended into the heart of ski season. Travelers can get a day of free lift tickets, rentals and lodging when they purchase at least a four-day package.
Skico also expanded a package called Kids Stay and Ski Free into March and April. Kids get one free lift ticket and a ski-package rental with a minimum purchase of a three-day adult lift ticket and rental.
The deals weren’t offered as late in the season in 2013, according to Tomcich.
Garrison said about 70 percent of the ski-season business for destination resorts like Aspen-Snowmass is locked in at this point. About 25 percent of the business is “in the bank” during the first six weeks of the season. Another 45 percent is on the books with deposits made on advance reservations. That doesn’t ensure a successful season. An economic problem or lack of snow over the remainder of the season could make it difficult to generate the remaining 30 percent of business, Garrison said.
“We are not ushering the fat lady off the stage by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.
“December was great. Off the chart. After two bad years, we had a lot of pent up demand.”
Joe Raczak, North of Nell Condominiums