Advance bookings a mixed bag so far | AspenTimes.com

Advance bookings a mixed bag so far

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Advance ski season bookings indicate Aspen and Snowmass are in for a much-hoped-for upswing in tourist visits ? or not.

Reports from local reservations agencies, hotels and lodges offer widely divergent forecasts for the winter business climate. All are in agreement on one point, though: Last weekend’s dumping of snow got the phones ringing.

At Aspen Ski Tours, which books ski vacation packages at 25 resorts in the Rockies, reservations in Aspen are down 17 percent compared to this time last year, while Snowmass bookings are down about 9 percent, according to Barry Lefkowitz, vice president of marketing.

But Stay Aspen Snowmass has already surpassed last year’s sales for December, according to Bill Tomcich, president of the local reservations agency.

“We have, as of this week, surpassed the total lodging sales that we booked for all of last December, and we still have seven weeks to go,” Tomcich said.

The agency, which books about 6 percent of the overall reservations in Aspen and Snowmass, has already booked $933,000 worth of lodging in December, he said. Last year, Stay Aspen Snowmass closed the books on December with $832,000 in total sales.

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Of course, last year, Aspen, like the rest of the nation, was suffering the fallout of Sept. 11. But this year’s December bookings are also up compared to December 2000, according to Tomcich.

“Apples to apples, December is looking good no matter how you slice it,” he said.

Although most of the tourist accommodations in Aspen and Snowmass can be booked through Stay Aspen Snowmass, bookings made directly with hotels and lodges are apparently all over the board.

“What I’m hearing from the individual properties is a total mixed bag. Some are seeing the same trends we are and some are not,” Tomcich said.

At the Limelight Lodge, reservations look good for the latter half of December as well as January, according to Sue Woolery, whose family runs the Limelight and Deep Powder Lodge ? 72 rooms in all.

“We’re looking fairly good. We’re about 90 percent full for the week of Christmas, but we do still have some rooms for rent,” she said. “So far, this season feels a little stronger.”

Advance bookings are on pace with the winter of 2000-01, Woolery said.

The six-room Snow Queen Lodge is also doing well, said manager David Ledingham, who also has three rooms available at the Cooper Street Lofts.

“Compared to last year, we’re doing better, definitely better, especially for the holidays,” he said.

Five feet of new snow doesn’t hurt, added Ledingham, who was busy e-mailing that tidbit of good news to past guests.

Bookings at the luxury Hotel Jerome are also ahead of last year’s numbers, and December is on pace with 1999 and 2000, according to general manager Tony DiLucia.

“We’re doing fine. We’re doing great, actually. We’re ahead of last year,” he said. “We don’t have anything to complain about.”

Reservations at The Gant condominium complex, on the other hand, are down about 8 percent for the winter, compared to last year, said general manager Molly Campbell.

The Gant enjoyed some strong group business last season; those numbers are down this winter. Campbell suspects ski groups are trying out other resorts and that many were lured to deals this season in Park City, Utah.

Utah bookings are up dramatically for Aspen Ski Tours, while reservations at many Colorado ski resorts are down, Lefkowitz said. Last year, Utah business was down for the company because the Olympics tied up much of the lodging.

Overall, bookings so far this winter for Aspen Ski Tours are up just 2 percent, compared to last year, thanks to the upswing in Utah. The company’s bookings in Vail are down 11.4 percent, Beaver Creek is down 7.7 percent, and Breckenridge is off pace by 1 percent, Lefkowitz said.

He suspects an economy that has struggled much of the year and the threat of war in the Middle East are factors, but the good early season snow could help turn things around.

“The snow is a godsend. We certainly are seeing an increase in conversion rates ? in other words, people who are calling are buying,” Lefkowitz said. “With this early snow and fairly low airfares ? because fares are low ? we’re optimistic that business will continue to improve.

“It could very well turn out to be a very good season, but this is what the story is now.”

It’s already well on its way to being a good season at The Little Nell, according to general manager Eric Calderon. Reservations are “surprisingly good” at the 92-room luxury hotel, he said.

“We’re actually fully booked for our prime weeks of the winter, which is Christmas, February and March,” he said. “We’ve been nervous, as everyone else has been the last 12 months or so, so we’re very pleased and excited.”

For properties that are still looking at an awful lot of openings, a good winter may be in the offing even though it’s not reflected in their reservation schedule yet, reasoned The Gant’s Campbell, who has noticed a trend toward last-minute bookings.

October revenues at The Gant were double last year’s total, and it all came in last-minute reservations, she said.

“What we’re seeing is a tremendous amount of last-minute or short-lead tourist demand,” Campbell said.

“There are a lot of bookings within the month that people are traveling,” agreed DiLucia at the Hotel Jerome. “I don’t get as alarmed as I used to about advance bookings.”

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]