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Resort lodging industry in Aspen, mountain states look at record year

The lodging industry in western U.S. ski resorts is rushing toward a record season for revenue and could challenge the record for occupancy, according to a report released Tuesday. A separate report showed Aspen-Snowmass lodging properties had the highest occupancy rate of any Colorado destination during January.

“This is a heady time for lodging properties,” said Ralf Garrison, director of DestiMetrics, a research firm that tracks occupancy in properties at 19 mountain resorts in six states.

Garrison said the lodging business completed this ski season combined with reservations on the books for February, March and April already equals 97 percent of revenues received for all of last season.

DestiMetrics examined booking patterns from the past few seasons and made projections for occupancy and revenue for the remainder of this year. If historical trends hold up this season, lodging revenues will be 10 percent above last season and 4.5 percent above the pre-recession record in 2007-08, according to Garrison. Occupancy for the winter is expected to be within 1 percent of the 2007-08 record, he said. High room rates are driving overall revenue to a record.

“This is a heady time for lodging properties.”Ralf Garrison, DestiMetrics

Occupancy and revenue for individual resorts could be slightly higher or lower than the aggregate projection, DestiMetrics noted.

Aspen-Snowmass tourism officials have insisted that low snowfall this winter isn’t affecting business. Garrison said his firm’s research confirms that assessment.

“Snow has less to do with the destination guest, but more with the local and regional (visitor),” Garrison said. Therefore, he believes Aspen-Snowmass and other pure destination resorts — where most visitors take an overnight trip — will see strong occupancy throughout the season, even if dry conditions persist.

“I can’t say there’s no impact,” he said of snowfall. “It’s considerably less” than on skier visits.

Skiers from Colorado’s resort towns and the Front Range might hit the slopes less because of conditions this year, but destination travelers are typically booked 50 days or more in advance, Garrison said. Very few of them will cancel reservations because of the financial penalties involved. Besides, Garrison said, immaculate corduroy on the slopes at most resorts suits many destination visitors just fine.

March business is strong throughout the resorts because of the “compression” factor created by Easter falling early in April, Garrison said. Spring break is concentrated into fewer weeks, so occupancy will run high.

A report by the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association showed Aspen’s occupancy was considerably higher than the state average in January and higher than any other city or resort. Aspen had 33,077 room nights available for the month. There were 26,491 room nights taken for an occupancy rate of 80.1 percent. Vail was at 75 percent and Breckenridge was at 75.3 percent. Steamboat was at 62.8 percent while Winter Park was at 55.9 percent, according to the association’s data, called the Rocky Mountain Lodging Report.

Elsewhere in the state, Glenwood Springs was at 50.3 percent occupancy and Grand Junction was at 36.5 percent.

Denver had 905,227 room nights available and had occupancy of 65.9 percent. Colorado’s lodging industry as a whole was 60.8 percent occupied for January, the report said.

Aspen’s lodging industry had the highest average daily rate at $519.80, far outpacing Vail in second place at $443.57.

Even if powder hounds aren’t happy at western resorts these days, DestiMetrics is projecting an average season of about 57 million skier visits nationwide. Garrison said he polled ski association executives from Colorado, Utah, Vermont and officials with the National Ski Areas Association at a conference in late January to get a feel for their projections.

The Rocky Mountain ski areas are “solid” for skier visits, he said. The East is doing well, though the harsh weather is preventing city dwellers from making it to the resorts for the weekends, he said. California and other far West resorts are in “we don’t suck so bad” mode when comparing this season to the prior two drought-plagued years, according to Garrison.

The seven-year average for national skier visits is about 57 million. Numbers have varied as much as 51 million to 60 million.

Even with an average year in skier visits, lodging occupancy and retail spending can set records. “Ironically, local community sales tax receipts go up in anemic snow years,” Garrison said.

Destination travels will find other ways to spend their days, and their dollars, if they don’t hit the slopes as often. And that’s key to the life of a destination resort. Destination visitors spend three to four times more than day skiers, and they stay an average of four or five nights.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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