Most resorts finish winter strong, size up weak summer |

Most resorts finish winter strong, size up weak summer

Staff report
One of the many delights at Lost Forest come summer.
Aspen Snowmass/Courtesy photo

Although a handful of ski resorts are still open, the winter 2022-23 ski season is ending on a high note, courtesy of extraordinary snowfall across most regions but particularly throughout the West.  

The most recent data released by DestiMetrics, part of the Business Intelligence division of Inntopia in their analysis of lodging properties in seven Western states, includes the preliminary findings of the National Ski Areas Association, which reported a record 64.7 million skier/snowboarder visits to U.S. resorts this winter.

But with snow no longer able to work its magic for mountain destinations in the summer, the upcoming months are showing considerable slowing from the winter season and previous summers. Data collected through April 30 continues to show notable declines in on-the-books occupancy for the upcoming summer as well as softening lodging rates. 

Strong finish for April lodging

Courtesy of excellent late season conditions, occupancy for April was up 5.3% in a year-over- year comparison while the Average Daily Rate (ADR) was up 2.7%. That growth in both categories resulted in aggregated revenues that were up 8.1% compared to last year. A comparison to April 2019 shows that occupancy was up 12.4% and when coupled with ADR that was up 53.6% over four years ago, brought in a 72.6% increase in revenues for the month. 

Summer occupancy looking shaky

In contrast to winter, economic challenges are exerting influence on bookings for the upcoming summer. On-the-books occupancy for the summer season from May through October is down 9.1% compared to last year at this time, with decreases in all six months.

Summer ADR is now up a 2.8% with increases in every month except October, which is down 0.4%. This is significant retraction in rates from March 31 when they were up a relatively strong 6.5%. The improvement in occupancy driven by softer rates is a clear indicator of economic forces impacting travel at mountain destinations.

“For almost two years, lodging properties have been able to hold rates and depend on occupancy being driven by either pent-up demand or in the case of the past winter, good snow,” explained Tom Foley, senior vice president of Business Intelligence for Inntopia. “But with most of the pent-up demand met during 2022 and with snow a non-factor in summer bookings, we’re seeing traditional market forces coming into play in mountain communities and are making it very clear that travelers are a lot more rate sensitive this summer than they have been for a very long time.”

He went on to clarify how rate is currently shaping the summer in these destinations. “The softening in daily rates over the past 30 days is directly correlated to improved summer occupancy levels, and lodging properties are going to have to pay attention to that price sensitivity in the weeks ahead.”

Comparing to the same time four years ago — the last summer before the pandemic hit — occupancy is down 8.8% but the daily rates are much higher than the summer of 2019 and are up 40.8% to deliver an increase in revenue of 48.4%.

Winter win

From a tentative start in November, when occupancy was looking tepid and the economic news was looking challenging, in a year-over-year comparison winter 2022-23 eked out an 0.2% gain in occupancy with declines in four of the six months — all but January and April. But the real victory for lodging properties was daily rates and revenues. The ADR for the winter finished up 5.9% over last year and, along with the tiny uptick in occupancy, provided a 6.1% increase in revenues over last winter. 

The more striking comparison was to four years ago and the last full pre-pandemic season. Occupancy was down 0.4% but ADR was up 43.1% to deliver 43.6% increase in revenues from four years ago.

“Widespread and truly remarkable snow conditions this past winter went a long way to encouraging skiers to shrug off some of the worrisome economic news and indulge in some overnight stays despite high rates — and setting an astonishing new record for skier visits this season,” noted Foley. “But mountain destinations cater to a more price-sensitive consumer during the summer months, and with high inflation and rising interest rates persisting and discouraging big-ticket purchases such as travel, the unchecked pattern of escalating daily rates appears to be coming to an end.”