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Business Monday: Aspen tourism bottoms out with pandemic shutdown

Staff report
Downtown Aspen, as seen the first week in April, has been fairly empty of late. A tourism report released last week said summer bookings look dismal because of the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times

April is looking fairly cruel to Aspen tourism, according to a report issued last week.

But that’s what happens — “all bad news, I’m afraid,” Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of sales Kristi Kavanaugh said in the company’s occupancy update Friday — when a global pandemic causes hotels and lodges to shut down.

Paid occupancy in Aspen this month is on track to hit the 0.6% mark — nearly half of 1% — which equates to a 98.1% drop in lodging business over April 2019 when lodges had a 32.4% booking rate, according to a report compiled by DestiMetrics, which examines visitor data at American ski resorts.

The winter was pacing ahead of last year in occupancy until public health orders took effect in mid-March to curb the spread of COVID-19.

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That led to brutal overall March for tourism, with Aspen’s lodging occupancy rate down 57.3% compared with March 2019, and Snowmass Village down 56.9% in a month.

Summer does not look promising either, given the cancellations of such in-person, high-profile events as Aspen Food & Wine Classic and Aspen Ideas Festival.

“Summer leisure booking pace came to a virtual halt in March and April, further deepening summer’s occupancy pace,” Kavanaugh wrote. “Currently, summer is sitting at 14.2%, pacing behind last summer by -44.9%.”

But not all is doom and gloom, Kavanaugh wrote, noting while “much of April, May and June events and groups have canceled or rescheduled, there are still events and groups confirmed July and beyond as many are holding out hope we can get back to business and tourism later this summer.”

April is not a busy one for local businesses. Aspen’s four ski areas traditionally close down for the season in April, with Aspen Mountain and Snowmass Ski Area shutting down last. Sunday was the scheduled closing day for those two mountains.

State health orders resulted in Aspen Skiing Co. closing its four ski areas in the middle of March, a month when lodges, retailers and restaurants look to seize spring break business and the warmer-weather crowds.

City tax reports from 2019 said March accounted for “roughly 12.1% of the year’s total sales tax collections,” while April accounted for 4.3%.

The Rocky Mountain Lodging Report also was issued last week and showed Aspen had a 50.7% occupancy rate in March. The report noted that it did not include closed rooms and hotels, so only available lodging inventory was factored into its average occupancy rates and daily rates.

March brought down Aspen’s occupancy rate to 71.1% for the year, the report said. Aspen had an 82.4% occupancy rate for the first quarter of 2019, according to the report.

Aspen charged the highest room rates in the state in March — $631.96 a day.

The Rocky Mountain Lodging Report is commissioned by the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association and compiled by Plante Moran, a Michigan-based accounting and business management firm.


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