Some hotels cashing in on millennium |

Some hotels cashing in on millennium

Aspen hotels will take a diverse approach to the millennium celebration, with some cashing in with 100 percent rate increases and others holding the line from last year.

And although Aspen Skiing Co. officials have expressed concerns that the resort not go overboard in cashing in on the celebration, the Skico-managed Aspen Meadows is boasting one of the largest price increases for New Year’s week.

On average, the low-end rooms at 25 Aspen hotels will be 31.5 percent more expensive during New Year’s week, according to an analysis of published rates at Aspen Central Reservations. High-end rooms at the 25 hotels will go up an average of 24 percent.

But individual properties vary widely from the average.

“The individual properties are all over the map with pricing strategies for next year,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Aspen Central Reservations.

The Mountain Chalet, for example, will charge the same this New Year’s Eve as it did last year. Low-end rooms remain at $150. High-end rooms stay at $380.

In addition, repeat customers get a 10 percent discount at the Mountain Chalet. And that means everyone. The hotel is 100 percent booked with repeat customers over the holidays, with a waiting list, said Susan Melville-Hajenga, who manages the hotel with her dad, Ralph Melville.

They kept the prices the same because they wanted to reward the customers that have been so good to them over the years, Melville-Hajenga said.

“By keeping it affordable, it does pay for us,” she said.

`Didn’t seem right’

The Snowflake Inn price increases were well below the industry average as well. Low-end rooms are up 13 percent to $289 per night while high-end rooms increased 3 percent to $695.

Snowflake general manager Joel Davenport said the bulk of their rooms, the suites, went up $40 to $399, an increase of 11 percent. He said the management decided not to try to make a killing during the new millennium celebrations.

“It just didn’t seem right,” he said. “It’s not a good image, no matter what resort’s doing it.”

The Snowflake is attempting to require a 10-night minimum stay during the holiday period, so management felt prices couldn’t be raised dramatically, said Davenport. He acknowledged New Year’s pricing was a tough decision.

“We’ve gone back and forth – it could be right, it could be wrong,” he said.

Warren Klug, president of the Aspen Lodging Association, said members have discussed the importance of not losing longtime customers for the sake of a killing on New Year’s Eve.

“If we hit them hard at this holiday season, what kind of taste does that leave in their mouth?” he said.

Klug, general manager of the Aspen Square Hotel, said rates there were increased slightly above the normal annual hike. They were still below the average increase for hotels in Aspen.

The rates are up 20 percent to $499 for the low-end rooms and 19 percent to $749 for high-end rooms during the holidays.

Klug’s image concerns are shared by Aspen Skiing Co. executives. They announced discounted lift tickets for the millennium season Tuesday.

Skico President and Chief Executive Officer Pat O’Donnell said he was concerned that the resort could go “overboard” for the much-hyped millennium celebration and “get what we can get.” The same theme was expressed by Skico Chief Operating Officer John Norton.

Skico needs closer look

Norton and O’Donnell didn’t need to look far for examples of drastic holiday price increases. The Aspen Meadows, a property managed by the Skico, has one of the highest percentage price increases for the holidays.

The Meadows, owned by the Aspen Institute, is raising low-end rates 72 percent from $345 to $595 per night and high-end rates 76 percent from $695 to $1,225.

Don Schuster, the Skico liaison to The Aspen Meadows, said those rates will be “re-evaluated” and probably lowered. He said the management team felt rooms there were underpriced compared to comparable properties in Aspen, so rates are being raised throughout ski season.

The rooms are still reasonably priced, he said, and The Aspen Meadows is unique among hotels in that it doesn’t require a minimum stay.

He acknowledged there was also the intent to capitalize on the high demand during the new millennium celebrations as well.

The Skico’s Norton said he was aware that the company-owned Little Nell hotel was planning only modest price hikes for the holidays, but he was unaware of increases at The Aspen Meadows.

The Little Nell consciously kept increases at or below 15 percent, according to general manager Eric Calderon.

“The theory with our holiday pricing was simple – not to gouge our regular guests,” he said. And during the holidays, virtually all guests are regular guests.

Calderon wants to make a statement by keeping price hikes in check at a time when much of the industry isn’t holding back. “We’re banking on their goodwill to keep coming back,” he said.

The Little Nell is raising its low-end rooms 15 percent to $750 per night while high-end rooms went from $4,800 to $5,500, a 14.5 percent hike.

Calderon acknowledged that the Little Nell’s price hikes were greater than usual, but not at a level he considered gouging.

“Normally we go up 5 to 10 percent. We’re going up a little bit more because it would be silly to do otherwise,” he said, noting the increased demand during the millennium celebrations.

Meadows not alone

The Aspen Meadows certainly isn’t alone with its dramatic price increases.

The six luxury units in the Brand Building, developed and managed by Harley Baldwin, increased the lowest-priced unit 32.5 percent from $830 to $1,100 per night during the holiday period. The high-end units went up 29.5 percent, from $2,625 to $3,400 per night.

“I think our prices in the Brand Building have been lower than they should have been anyway,” said Baldwin. He said it wasn’t a case of “millennia hysteria.”

The lowest-priced rooms at the Hotel Aspen are going up 67 percent to $499 while the high-end is up 46.5 percent to $599. Repeat guests will receive discounts.

Bob Morris, owner of the Aspen Group, which manages the Hotel Aspen, said guests will get bang for their buck.

“We wanted to create a package that was more expensive but has high, high perceived value,” he said. “When people leave the hotel, I want them to be absolutely awestruck.”

The package includes free Dom Perignon 90 in every room, a wine tasting with a gourmet meal, engraved champagne flutes, New Millennium countdown clocks, and a “fabulous dinner and private party” on New Year’s Eve.

“We’ve had to lay out so much cash for the millennium that it’s amazing,” said Morris.

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