Summer business not as hot as the weather | AspenTimes.com

Summer business not as hot as the weather

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen’s summer tourist business hasn’t been as blistering as the temperatures, if bookings by several local agencies are any indication.

Reservations are down as the resort heads into the final month of a season marked by wildfires, a sluggish economy and a lingering reluctance to travel in the wake of Sept. 11.

“The whole summer has been soft,” said Ron Erickson, president of Aspen Resort Accommodations. “I’m able to get whatever I want, whenever I want it. That has never happened before.”

The properties Erickson manages are booked, but he is able to find a half-dozen options for vacationers who call his office, he said.

Stay Aspen-Snowmass was reporting a 9.9 percent increase in gross lodging revenues for the month of August, based on bookings as of July 31, but the agency was anticipating a 13 percent jump to reflect its merger with the formerly separate Snowmass reservations operation, said president Bill Tomcich.

July was down 5.2 percent, though the agency anticipated about a 13 percent increase for that month as well, he said.

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“Definitely, the out-of-state business is what’s taking its toll,” Tomcich said. Bookings from California, Texas and Illinois – three big producers of Aspen vacationers – are down between 12 and 24 percent, he said.

On the other hand, business from both Florida and New York is up about 10 percent.

If many travelers are sticking closer to home, Coloradans are choosing Aspen and Snowmass in greater numbers.

In-state bookings by Stay Aspen-Snowmass are up 18 percent, Tomcich reported.

The agency handles roughly 6 percent of overall local bookings.

Hotel and condo occupancy for this week stood at 69 percent, according to early reservations at 15 different properties tracked by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. That compares to 85 percent occupancy for the first week of August last year.

Actual reservations for the week of July 21-27 at the 15 properties reflected an occupancy of 67 percent, compared to 82 percent last year.

Typically, it’s tougher to find lodging during the last week of July and first week of August than it is at New Year’s, according to Erickson.

Bookings for June and July in Aspen were only slightly off last year’s pace for Aspen Ski Tours, but August is down 20 to 25 percent, estimated Barry Lefkowitz, director of marketing for the company, which primarily books ski vacations at resorts in the Rockies.

“August is very light, no question about it. There’s a lot of space out there,” he said.

Bookings for the company’s Aspen Music Tours, vacation packages that include Aspen Music Festival tickets, are down a bit this year, according to Lefkowitz.

The Music Festival has reported a 4 percent decline in ticket sales this season.

Colorado’s spate of wildfires, the economy and the reluctant traveler are all factors hampering Aspen’s attempt to rebound from a tough winter, Lefkowitz suspects.

“I think a lot of people are still hesitant about traveling,” he said.

Aspen and the state as a whole have been battling the perception that wildfires are raging everywhere almost since summer began. Last week’s blaze in Missouri Heights was described as “near Aspen” on Denver television news reports.

“I would say the smoke has had more effect this summer than snow did last winter,” Tomcich said.