Bookings at local lodges fall back after stellar December

Naomi Havlen

Bookings for lodging in Aspen during February and March appear to be falling off and coming in line with last year’s figures, according to a major local reservation company.

Stay Aspen-Snowmass President Bill Tomcich said bookings have slowed down after the month of January and a very strong December.

“We’re no longer seeing a huge increase – we’re shaping up to be flat with last year,” he said. “But last year February and March were when things got back to normal, so that means things are pretty good.”

Tomcich said it’s difficult to compare this season to last year. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, bookings of all kinds – lodging, restaurant reservations, ski ticket purchases – were down sharply last December. In contrast, vacationers booked in much greater numbers in December 2002, which ultimately lead the town to a 10.4 percent jump in sales tax receipts compared to the year before.

And while January 2002 produced a large number of calls to Stay Aspen-Snowmass, January 2003 has been more typical, Tomcich said, as a “softer period” before February and March.

“Last year everyone waited until after the holidays to plan and book a ski vacation,” Tomcich said. “In 2002 we had unprecedented call volume in January – so much that our office wasn’t prepared to handle it, so people booked anyway they could, and we saw a huge growth in online bookings.”

The trend toward booking closer to a vacation has continued, he said, with some people holding off on making the call until less than a week before their scheduled trip.

That trend and the Winter X Games created a crunch at the end of January, when reservations agents relied on last-minute cancellations to book rooms.

At Aspen Ski Tours, which books roughly 10 percent of Aspen’s lodging in hotels and condominiums, president Barry Lefkowitz said he also sees last-minute bookings, from two to four weeks before arrival, as a growing trend.

“People are very cost-conscious right now – they’re shopping their heads off before booking,” he said. “We’re still seeing good business for Presidents Day weekend, and fairly good business for later in February and March.”