COVID-19 crisis has occupancy in Aspen/Snowmass at historic lows |

COVID-19 crisis has occupancy in Aspen/Snowmass at historic lows

Tuesday marks one month since Gov. Jared Polis ordered the state’s ski areas to shut down, sending what was a very strong tourism economy in Aspen into a tailspin, and occupancy projections show the summer season is pacing 42% behind from last year.

That’s according to the latest report from central reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass and DestiMetrics, which tracks lodging at resorts around the country.

The winter was pacing ahead of last year in occupancy until public health orders went into effect mid-March in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

During a news conference Monday, Polis described his March 14 decision to close the ski areas as “extremely painful.”

Once the ski areas, restaurants, bars, lodging and non-essential businesses closed, Aspen and Snowmass saw steep declines in occupancy almost immediately.

Kristi Kavanaugh, vice president of sales for Aspen Skiing Co., called March “a month that will go down in infamy” in the executive report released Monday.

March’s occupancy was 40.8% worse than the same time in 2019. Aspen achieved 45.2% occupancy last month, down 42.9%.

Snowmass had 49.6% of its rooms filled, which was down 38.3% from March 2019.

With hotels still closed, April is at 0.9% occupancy, compared with last year’s 33.7%, according to the report.

As of March 31, the combined occupancy of Aspen and Snowmass was down 8.6% from last winter’s record performance. Aspen trails last season by 7.4% and Snowmass is behind 9.9%.

With the cancellations of major events like Aspen Food & Wine Classic and the 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 just below 15% and is pacing behind last summer by 42.2%.”

But there is a silver lining in the report, which is there are events and groups confirmed for July and later in the year.

“Many are holding out hope we can get back to business and tourism later this summer,” Kavanaugh wrote.

City Finance Director Pete Strecker said in his March tax projections that weakness is expected through the summer not only because of the cancellation of events, but also uncertainty of global and state travel restrictions.

“Tourism is only expected to make a modest rebound in mid-to-late summer, with destination marketing partners focused on key U.S. markets — Colorado, New York, Florida, Texas and additional direct flight markets,” Strecker wrote in a memo. “It is anticipated that the rebound will continue into the fall and by December, anticipate a weaker open to the ski season.”

Aspen City Council on Tuesday is expected to approve a $6 million local economic relief package as the municipal government braces for an estimated revenue shortfall of nearly $13 million in lodging and sales tax revenue this year.

That’s based off a projected reduction of $277 million in the sales and lodging tax base as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Strecker said the city administration is scaling back its operations and will bring forward a formalized cost cutting package for council to consider in the near future.

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