Expectations are high for summer tourism in Aspen
The Aspen Times
Expectations are high that the summer of 2013 is going to be a big one in Aspen — perhaps better, in terms of sales, than the blockbuster season of 2012.
“We are definitely expecting bigger numbers than we did last year,” said Debbie Krigel, director of sales and marketing for Blazing Adventures, which offers guided rafting tours on the Roaring Fork, Arkansas and Colorado rivers.
“There’s an energy among the guides that this is going to be a great season, and everybody’s looking forward to it,” Krigel said.
Bill Tomcich, president of reservations firm Stay Aspen Snowmass, said he’s confident in a positive summer outlook from the next monthly lodging occupancy report on Aspen and Snowmass Village by the Mountain Travel Research Program, known as MTRiP. It won’t be released until sometime next week.
Though normally upbeat, Tomcich’s evaluation of last month’s report wasn’t so forward-looking.
“Looking ahead toward summer, at this point there is really nothing to be either all that excited or concerned about,” he wrote last month in his summary of the April 30 report.
In an interview on Wednesday, Tomcich was a bit more bullish, even though he didn’t have the new data to back it up.
“The bookings are starting to build here,” Tomcich said. “I would suspect that the total number of bookings for the upcoming summer have doubled since that last occupancy report came out on April 30.
“A lot of factors are coming together for us to have a very successful and strong summer,” he continued. “First of all, the weather. We aren’t in a severe drought like we were a year ago. Fire danger is low to moderate; the scenery is stunning with snow-capped peaks and lush green foliage in the valleys right now. The golf courses are in magnificent shape and the rafting is at above-average levels for this time of year.”
The uptick in recent activity is palpable. The streets of the city have become more crowded with vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists over the last week.
On Thursday, United Airlines started its full summer schedule, which includes 10 daily flights from Denver and as many as 12 on Sundays, up from four to five flights daily since mid-April. United also will have daily nonstop service from Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago this summer.
American Airlines, which had an offseason hiatus, returns to the market on Wednesday with daily nonstop flights from Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth.
“There will be some rate competition with two airlines serving Aspen,” Tomcich said. “From what I’ve seen, I wouldn’t call the fares low, but they don’t seem nearly as high as they were last winter. I’m seeing a lot of reasonably priced flights in and out of Aspen for much of the summer… to anywhere other than Denver. Flying between here and Denver — unless you are using Denver to connect to somewhere else — is expensive.”
Tomcich said the annual Food and Wine Classic sold out in early April. Food and Wine, which runs for three days beginning June 14, typically sells out and is generally considered the kick-off for the summer tourism season.
The Aspen Music Festival begins June 27 and its start won’t conflict with the July Fourth weekend as it has in the past, he noted. Speaking of the holiday, it falls on a Thursday this year, providing some with a four-day weekend from the workplace — and an opportunity to book four days of hotel nights in Aspen.
The USA Pro Challenge cycling race will be back for its third consecutive year on Aug. 19 and Aug. 20, and Tomcich said he believes the crowds will be bigger than ever because race organizers decided to begin the seven-day event with a circuit race that loops three times between Aspen and Snowmass Village.
Aspen has never hosted the race’s opening stage. On the second day, riders will leave Aspen and head up Independence Pass on their way to Breckenridge.
“We’re going to have a lot of teams and a significant chunk of their entourage arriving before the race and staying a number of days,” Tomcich said.
This year’s race will be particularly spectator-friendly, he said, with many points between Aspen and Snowmass Village to view the first stage and even opportunities for cyclists to follow the riders using adjacent bike trails.
Sally Spaulding, public relations director for the hospitality division of Aspen Skiing Co., said advanced summer bookings at The Limelight Hotel are ahead of last year’s pace.
The hotel’s general manager, Richard Stettner, reported to her that the increase is due to repeat business from last summer’s clients, word-of-mouth about the summers in Aspen and more wedding groups.
Last summer was one for the Aspen record books with $151.5 million in retail sales from June through August, topping the previous record of $141.4 million during the same three months of 2008, according to data supplied by Chris Lundgren of the city’s Finance Department.
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During what turned into a 30-minute conversation that got heated Tuesday night, Aspen Mayor Torre voiced his frustration with the city manager’s office in not putting together a community event sooner than the first of the year, while Councilwoman Rachel Richards said some of the mayor’s frustrations and comments were “unfounded.”