Reservations sagging after strong start to ski season |

Reservations sagging after strong start to ski season

The strong start to the ski season is in danger of fizzling over the next three weeks.

It will take a flurry of last-minute reservations to boost hotel and lodge occupancies up to a level that matches last January. And even if that happens, last January wasn’t anything to brag about.

Occupancy reports released last week by the resort associations of Aspen and Snowmass Village showed occupancies trailing significantly for the weeks starting Jan. 7, 14 and 21.

The outlook was particularly dismal in Snowmass Village, where the advance bookings for the week that just ended would have produced an occupancy rate of only 58 percent. Last year the actual occupancy for that same week was 67 percent.

Aspen Skiing Co. Chief Operating Officer John Norton said he wasn’t worried because last-minute bookings always roll in. He cautioned against drawing too many conclusions by comparing what’s on the books for the coming weeks to what occurred for those weeks last season.

Bill Tomcich, president of Aspen Central Reservations, remained hopeful that snow this week will make the phones ring. “Call volume was definitely down for the second week of January,” he said.

Prospective customers to the high country are waiting longer to book trips, in part to check on snow conditions, said Tomcich.

The entire travel and leisure industry, not just ski resorts, is experiencing later bookings. Tourists are staying on trips for shorter durations, and they are prone to make spur-of-the-moment decisions, according to Tomcich. It’s due to “time poverty,” or having so much to do and so little time.

“We saw more close-in and last-minute bookings last December than I’ve ever seen before,” he said.

To prove his point he compared reservations data from winter 1995 to winter 2000. In October 1995, Aspen was 25 percent booked for that December. In October 2000, town was only 11 percent booked for that December.

By November, Aspen was 45 percent booked for December 1995. In November 2000, Aspen was only 25 percent booked.

And finally, by Dec. 1, 1995, the month was 73 percent sold out. By Dec. 1, 2000, the month was 52 percent sold out.

Travelers have learned that by booking late, they might see prices and the minimum stays required by hotels come down.

“We, as a destination, are not doing anything to buck that trend,” said Tomcich, referring to the tendency toward late bookings. The Skico offers lift tickets at reduced prices for tourists who commit early, he noted, but the lodging industry stubbornly won’t reduce minimum stays until forced to and rarely offers discounts for early bookings, he said.

A Jan. 11 occupancy report by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association showed that advance reservations for the week of Jan. 7 would have produced occupancy of 56 percent compared to occupancy of 65 percent for that week last year.

For the week that started Jan. 14, current bookings produce an occupancy rate of 64 percent. Last year’s actual occupancy was 75 percent.

The preliminary numbers even look lackluster for Gay Ski Week. Right now, bookings would produce occupancy of 67 percent. Actual occupancy last year was 78 percent.

One Aspen property manager, who wished to remain anonymous, doesn’t expect the town’s overall outlook to improve for the next few weeks, because finding affordable air fare at this late date is virtually impossible. Even if travelers want to book late, they will face trouble.

The deficit between current bookings and last year’s occupancies is truly dreadful in Snowmass Village. A Jan. 8 report by the Snowmass Village Resort Association showed the forecast is for 56 percent occupancy for the week that started Jan. 13. The occupancy for that week last season was 84 percent.

SVRA is also projecting 56 percent occupancy for the week starting Jan. 20. Last year it was 72 percent.

There was a bright spot in the reports. ACRA said that December 2000 was slightly busier than the same month last year. Occupancy for the month was 57 percent this season compared to 54 percent last season.

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