Hotels facing a millennium bug |

Hotels facing a millennium bug

The overhyped Millennium Bug suddenly appears very real and very ominous to some hotels and lodges in Aspen and Snowmass Village.

Some tourist accommodations in both towns are finding it more difficult than expected to lure guests to fill beds between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

“There are properties that are sold. There are also properties out there that are sitting on a lot of rooms,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Aspen Center Reservations. “In prior years we would have been sold out by now.”

It used to be a given that there was no room at the inn during the holidays. That’s no longer the case.

Last year, a lack of snow translated into an 87 percent occupancy rate overall in Aspen during the week of Dec. 27 to Jan. 2. There’s a threat that it could be even lower this year, according to Tomcich. Sound the alarm He took that threat seriously enough to sound an alarm last week. He sent out a “Blast Fax” to members of the central reservations service asking them to consider lowering rates, shortening required lengths of stay or both if they weren’t already full. So far he’s received responses from a “couple” of properties, he said.

The Snowmass Village Resort Association, which also operates a central reservations service, hasn’t taken a formal action like its Aspen counterpart. But there have been “casual conversations” about business lagging behind during the holiday period, according to Jeff Tippett, vice president of operations.

A handful of properties have notified the SVRA in recent weeks of their lower rates and minimum stays during the holidays, Tippett said.

The prospects for slower business during the millennium celebration are plaguing the entire travel and leisure industries, not just the Roaring Fork Valley, Tomcich stressed. People staying put At first it was anticipated that hordes of people would want to celebrate the millennium. That hasn’t happened.

Between real and perceived price gouging and fears of computer-influenced infrastructure breakdowns many people are choosing to stay home.

“As opposed to being way up, resorts are generally down,” said Tomcich, who is constantly in contact with central reservations managers in resorts throughout the West. “I’m hearing the same thing for some of the properties here.”

Tomcich said he hopes he can convince managers of hotels, lodges and other properties to make adjustments and spread the word this month, while there is still time to lure people before their holiday plans are set.

“We need to be ahead of our competitors in getting the word out,” he said.

Tippett said the next 30 days are critical for bookings for the holiday period. By mid- to late-October, plans will be set. Protesting price gouging ACR’s Tomcich anticipates that businesses in the leisure industry – everything from cruise ships to ski resorts – will slash millennium celebration prices in a last-ditch effort to draw guests.

He cautiously explained that real and perceived price gouging by the industry in general has led to a protest by consumers. Maybe he didn’t need to be so diplomatic. An Aspen Times survey in June of published rates at 25 local hotels showed high-end rooms soaring an average of 24 percent during the millennium week. The lowest-priced rooms were climbing 31.5 percent over prices the previous year.

Hefty increases are typical during the busy holiday period – but not that hefty, according to industry insiders. Even so, some properties have been able to fill their rooms for the holidays.

But Tomcich said a person could call today and book a room for millennium week with little trouble, something traditionally unheard of for a similar week in previous years.

Even air travel is possible at a reasonable price. He noted that flying from San Francisco to Eagle County Airport on Dec. 26 and returning Jan. 2 is possible for only $205 round-trip on one airline.

Even flights into and out of Aspen from Denver are available as long as a traveler doesn’t arrive on Dec. 26, the busiest day. Those discoveries prompted Tomcich to declare that airline fares and availability “are no longer an issue.”

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