Aspen summer bookings heating up |

Aspen summer bookings heating up

Janet UrquhartThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Aspen’s summer season will be a busy one, if reports from local hotel and lodge operators are any indication.Reservations are tracking ahead of last year’s pace – in some cases noticeably – though the latest data on future bookings has yet to see daylight. Mountain Travel Research Program, or MTRiP, soon will issue its report on overall bookings for the month of May in Aspen and Snowmass Village, along with projections for future months, but anecdotally at least, summer looks promising.”I think everybody’s looking at some pretty strong increases, based on what I’ve heard,” said Bill Tomcich, president of local reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass.The Aspen Food & Wine Classic for June 15 to 17 is generally considered the start to the resort’s summer rush, and resort officials reported an early sellout for the 30th anniversary of the event. Hotel accommodations followed suit.”Aspen is virtually sold out that weekend,” Tomcich said.Coinciding with Food & Wine is the startup of service to Aspen by American Airlines, which debuted service to the resort last winter and returns for the summer starting June 14.Also on the calendar in the latter half of June: Aspen Ideas Festival, the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Festival and the start of the Aspen Music Festival and School.It all makes for a busy month at the 90-room Sky Hotel in Aspen, where reservations are “significantly up” for the month of June, according to general manager Corey Enloe. After an offseason closure for renovations, the Sky reopened the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend and found itself with a two-night sellout. “We weren’t expecting it,” Enloe said, crediting an early opening of Independence Pass this spring and pleasant weather for luring the drive crowd.After a busy spring offseason, the 126-room Limelight Lodge is already more than 60 percent full overall for the summer, based on current reservations, according to Assistant Manager Elizabeth Tobolewski.”We’re definitely up from last year. Our entire year so far, we’ve been up,” she said”We’re poised to have a very good summer, compared to the last couple of years,” added Donnie Lee, general manager at the Gant, a 140-unit condominium property.The one questionable spot, oddly, is July 4, according to Tomcich. The traditionally bustling holiday falls on a Wednesday this year, and some hotels are reporting strong bookings on the weekend before, or after, the Fourth. Others anticipate crowds throughout the week.At the 92-room Little Nell, director of sales and marketing Justin Todd expects a strong first week of July, with tourists who will stay for the Fourth after the Ideas Festival wraps up and those who come in for July 4 and stay through the following weekend.Overall, summer bookings at The Little Nell are tracking ahead of last year’s pace, Todd said.”We’re trending in the right direction,” he said.August promises another short burst of bookings, as this year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge brings both a stage finish and a start to Aspen. The night of Aug. 22 could prove a midweek sellout, especially since local hotels and lodges have set aside some of their rooms for the racers and others associated with the event, leaving fewer accommodations to sell.The Little Nell already has seen bookings associated with the pro bike race, and the Sky Hotel’s Enloe said he wouldn’t be surprised if the hotel fills up for the event.”It certainly is generating a lot of interest,” he said.For travelers, gas prices this summer may boost the allure of a road trip. Earlier this month, the U.S. government cut its forecast for average gas prices to $3.79 per gallon for the summer thanks to a drop in the price of oil, though gas prices in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley typically are well above the national average. (Regular unleaded was going for $4.69 a gallon at one downtown Aspen gas station Tuesday afternoon.)Air travelers will find Frontier Airlines out of the picture at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport this summer, but American will offer nonstop flights between Aspen and both Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles – service made feasible by the local airport’s new, longer runway, Tomcich noted.In addition, United Airlines will offer new daily nonstop connections to both Chicago and Houston starting June 7. The nonstop flights – a first for United during the summertime, Tomcich noted – are made possible by the lengthened runway, which eases weight restrictions in hot weather.United has, however, reduced the frequency of its service between Aspen and Denver from an average of 11 flights daily to 10 this summer, Tomcich said. But the airline will continue to offer nonstop service between Aspen and Los Angeles, which this year has been extended throughout September (until Oct. 2).In all, according to Tomcich, peak summer air service will average 15 daily flights, compared to 16 last

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