Bookings keep coming despite guests’ concerns about snowfall

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

The volume of lodging bookings continues to be strong even though some potential customers are voicing concerns about the lack of recent snowfall, according to the head of the central bookings agency.

Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass said Aspen’s occupancy for December is nearly 13 percent ahead of last year, and Snowmass Village’s occupancy is nearly 20 percent ahead.

Most of the gain is over the first three weeks of the month.

Rose Abello, tourism director for Snowmass Village, said the resort’s December numbers were buoyed by the group sales staff signing two large college groups. A group of about 750 people from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University stayed in Snowmass as well as 500 Spartans from Michigan State University.

“That will have a big impact on the balance of the season.”
Bill Tomcich of Stay Aspen Snowmass on the holiday ski experience

The large groups bring a lot of vibrancy at a time that isn’t always busy, she said.

A special package called the Early Escape also is driving early-season business, according to Tomcich. The deal offers 50 percent off lodging, lift tickets and equipment rentals with a minimum purchase of two days of lodging.

The promotional packaging is having a greater impact than the recent dry spell, Tomcich said. Many people who call the central reservations agency to inquire about booking a trip ask about the snow conditions, he said. Even with a plethora of sources about snowfall at resorts on the Internet and social media, people still ask the trip planners about conditions “all the time,” Tomcich said.

“They definitely want a personal testament,” he said.

The trip planners at Stay Aspen Snowmass direct people to the Roundshot cameras that are perched at the ski areas and let people view conditions for themselves.

There’s also a strong message being delivered with the availability of 700 acres at Aspen Highlands for its opening today. Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said the opening-day terrain was based on what the ski patrol felt was possible, not marketing desires.

“We weren’t pushing the envelope to make a statement,” he said.

Buttermilk also opens today with top-to-bottom skiing on about 125 acres.

Skico is charging $104 for single-day lift tickets and $94 each for two-day tickets.

Bookings for the Christmas and New Year’s holiday period “are pacing right on par with last year,” Tomcich wrote in an email to the lodging communities of Aspen and Snowmass Village. Lodging in both resorts will be sold out Dec. 27 to 31, he said.

“It looks like we’re going to have a real solid five days,” Tomcich said.

Individual properties were reporting the same trend. “We’re looking for a strong December with a sellout over what we call the festive period from Christmas through the end of New Year’s,” said Andrea Heffner, director of sales and marketing for Hotel Jerome.

Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Thursdays. The calendar shift has created varying situations for the lodging community. Hotel Jerome General Manager Tony DeLucia said he expects it to result in a busier time. “You get almost two full weeks,” he said.

One type of guest will time their stay to experience a white Christmas, then they will head out to a warm destination, he said. Another type of guest will come into Aspen after Christmas and stay into the weekend after New Year’s Day, according to DeLucia.

For the lodging community overall, the Thursday holidays are creating “significant availability” for vacations that end by Dec. 27 or start after Jan. 1, according to Tomcich.

Everyone in the tourism industry is hopeful that the dry spell ends by the holidays. The ski experience during Christmas and New Year’s is crucial, Tomcich said. “That will have a big impact on the balance of the season,” he said.

Abello, former head of public relations for Skico, agreed that when holiday crowds find good conditions, it spurs them to tell their friends and its encourages them to return for another trip.

“They’re going to come home and be evangelicals for us,” she said.

And, of course, everyone involved in marketing Snowmass and Aspen is poised to deliver the message via social media once it snows again.

Abello said Friday afternoon that she was preparing to wash her car in hopes that would guarantee snow. “I’m taking one for the team,” she said.