Prospects for early bookings dry as slopes | AspenTimes.com

Prospects for early bookings dry as slopes

The endless sunny skies are starting to create gloomy prospects for the beginning of the fast-approaching ski season.

Potential customers have taken a wait-and-see attitude to booking their trips during the first month of the season, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Aspen Central Reservations. He said he is particularly concerned about the last week of November and the first two weeks of December.

“Those are just in the tank right now,” Tomcich said.

With just 10 days remaining before the scheduled openings at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, there is precious little snow on the ground and little if any expected to fall in the next five days or so. Dry skies and unseasonably warm temperatures continue to dominate weather throughout the western United States.

After two seasons in which early-season snow wasn’t up to snuff, tourists are waiting to see if the white stuff materializes before booking hotel rooms, said Tomcich.

Every business operator in Aspen hopes the start of this ski season isn’t a replay of last year. Although lifts opened early last winter because of great early-season snow, conditions dried out in November and remained that way through the end of the Christmas-New Year’s holiday period.

Skico officials said reports of substandard conditions snowballed throughout the first six weeks of the season. Even after it started snowing regularly around New Year’s, the damage was done. Tourists perceived bad conditions – and stayed away.

The Skico’s season numbers for 1998-99 were down about 8 percent.

Slower-than-anticipated sales have also plagued the typically busy Christmas and New Year’s holiday period for the coming season. The entire travel and leisure industry is experiencing less business than expected for the millennium celebration, according to national media reports. It’s not a problem unique to Aspen.

Tomcich said some accommodations have dropped prices in an effort boost business. He said 13 of 43 properties that belong to Aspen Central Reservations have “dramatically reduced rates” for millennium week since summer 1999.

On average, room rates are up 13 percent for millennium week over the same week last year, according to Tomcich’s analysis. But last summer, prices had been 31 percent higher on average.

Aspen Central Reservations members have shown a reluctance to drastically shorten minimum length-of-stay requirements for millennium week to spark business.

Of 43 member properties, 29 are requiring guests to stay seven days or more. Six properties have a five-night minimum stay while another five require a three- or four-night stay. Three properties don’t have a minimum requirement.

“The phones are ringing off the hook” at Aspen Central Reservations with people who want to visit during millennium week but aren’t willing to pay the prices or stay as long as required in many of the properties, said Tomcich. Properties with lower prices and shorter stay requirements tend to be selling better.

The current lack of snow and “millennium bug” worries have reduced reservations made through Tomcich’s agency by 21 percent for December. However, many tourists, particularly repeat customers, don’t book vacations through Aspen Central Reservations, so individual properties might be doing better, he noted.

Nevertheless, John Norton, Skico chief operating officer and a member of the Aspen Central Reservations board of directors, predicted “a light week” during the millennium celebration. He defined light as 80 to 85 percent occupancy rather than the 95 to 99 percent occupancy typical for the week during New Year’s.

But not all the preseason news is gloomy. Norton reported that the Skico has sold 50,000 days of skiing in advance. The Skico began a discounted multiday lift-ticket promotion in July to try to spark business.

The daily price is reduced to $39 per day on a six-day ticket, for example. That six-day ticket is proving most popular with consumers, Norton said.

Up until recently, Norton said he considered sales of the discounted tickets to be “kind of dawdling along.” But business picked up in November, he said.

He anticipates sales to strengthen as November progresses because the discounted multiday tickets must be purchased by Dec. 1. The promotion is the Skico’s attempt to get consumers to commit to a trip without knowing snow conditions.

Tomcich said preseason bookings for January and February are strong – in contrast to December.


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