December lodge bookings in Aspen, Snowmass flat |

December lodge bookings in Aspen, Snowmass flat

Aspen is ready for the holiday guests, but hotel operators aren’t sure how ready the guests are for Aspen.

“Everyone I know has space for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and they’re hoping for last-minute reservations,” said Bob Morris, who runs Aspen Mountain Lodge.

On Tuesday, central reservations booking agency Stay Aspen Snowmass and parent Aspen Skiing Co. reported that Aspen lodges, as of Nov. 30, held a 52.9 percent paid occupancy rate in December, based on information from Denver-based Destimetrics, a research firm that tracks occupancy and bookings trends.

Through Nov. 30, 2017, 53.4 percent of Aspen rooms had been booked for December at a time when snowfall was unseasonably low, prompting Skico to work overtime to open its mountains and maintain them.

This fall, however, saw enough snowfall for Aspen Mountain to open Nov. 17, five days earlier than scheduled. Aspen Highlands opened a week ahead of schedule.

“While this report only covers through Nov. 30, the community has reported a noteworthy rush of bookings since Dec. 1 in no small part due to three of our four mountains opening early and the 100-plus inches of early snowfall,” SAS and Skico said in an introduction to the report. “Hats off to (Skico) ops teams for making this possible! We expect to see December reservation activity close the gap on last year’s occupancy.”

That is what Donnie Lee, general manager of the The Gant, a 140-guestroom condo complex on the east side of Aspen, and other lodging operators are hoping.

“We have definitely trailed the pace of last year leading through the holiday period,” Lee said. “But we are still getting bookings last minute.”

Down the road in Snowmass Village, paid occupancy for December was 43.1 percent as of Nov. 30, off the 46.8 percent mark recorded the same time last year. That drop was likely due to Snowmass’ 50th anniversary celebration in December 2017, which included such juicy deals as $6.50 lift-ticket prices on Dec. 15, the SAS/Skico report said.

And in November, bookings stood at 31.8 percent in Aspen, up from 30.1 percent in November 2017; Snowmass saw a 14.5 percent occupancy rate, up from 11.8 percent in November 2017.

The SAS/Skico report attributed the rise — Aspen’s occupancy rate in November was a record for that month — to the early openings at both Aspen Mountain and Snowmass.

During a presentation to Pitkin County commissioners Dec. 11, Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan said the season was mixed at that point for advance reservations.

He showed a graph indicating bookings are lagging behind last season by varying amounts throughout December and up to Jan. 26.

“The second half of the season is looking pretty decent,” Kaplan said.

He said the period from Dec. 22 to 29 might not be as strong as usual.

“A lot of that is the calendar,” Kaplan said. Christmas falls on a Tuesday, so many schools aren’t out until late that prior week, and vacations aren’t starting until later.

National and global economic forces also are factors for this winter’s tourism, as well as the after-effects from the 2016-17 ski season, Lee and Morris said.

“My theory is that some people got burned last year, so now they are going to wait (before booking a hotel),” Morris said. “They’re coming through, but they’re not coming through in droves. It’s not like our switchboard is lighting up; it’s the occasional reservation coming in.”

Morris also cast a dim view on the economy due to volatile stock markets, the Federal Reserve’s raising interest rates three times this year (with a fourth one possibly coming) and other economic and political factors.

“There is no question we are in the beginning stages of a serious recession,” he said.

Said Lee: “It’s hard to point at one particular thing. Our international travel is down, and the exchange rate is not favorable. And not to get political, but from a political standpoint, we are not making any international friends. All of those things play into it.”

In the bigger picture, Kaplan said the ski industry faces challenges in a “flat skier-visit environment.” The baby boomers who sustained the sport for so long are “aging out” of skiing, he noted. People have less free time and more competition for the leisure time they have.

“We need to work hard on diversifying our customer base,” Kaplan told the commissioners.

Skico’s goal is to stabilize its business rather than look for big annual growth, he said.

“We are definitely not pursuing an industrial tourism model,” Kaplan said. “It’s not who we are. It’s not who we want to be.”

Reporter Scott Condon contributed to this report.

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