Vail reservation numbers paint glum picture |

Vail reservation numbers paint glum picture

Scott N. Miller
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colo. ” Look at Vail’s winter reservations numbers. Then take a deep breath and give a thankful sigh this isn’t Telluride or Stowe, Vt.

Make no mistake ” after a stellar 2007-08 ski season, Vail’s reservations numbers are off, and off significantly. As of Nov. 30, reservations for December through April were down more than 22 percent. Room rates are down, too, and that’s bad news.

In a Tuesday morning presentation to the Vail Economic Advisory Council, travel research consultant Ralf Garrison said reservations and rates generally go in opposite directions ” that is, as rates drop, reservations rise. This fall, though rates and bookings are both down.

“That means you don’t have pricing power right now,” Garrison said. “I don’t know if there’s a guest out there who will respond to price right now.”

There’s also a growing belief that this recession is probably going to be a long one. Garrison said various kinds of recovery on a graph look like a “V” for quick bouncebacks, a “U” for longer recoveries, or an “L” in the case of long-lasting downturns. More economists are leaning toward “L” at the moment, he said.

But while Vail is being hit by the same economic forces rocking the rest of the country, it could be worse.

Garrison ” whose company tracks reservation and retail activity in mountain resorts ” said the information he’s getting from the New England resorts is pretty gloomy. And, he said, resorts such as Telluride that depend entirely on destination visitors are feeling the pinch more deeply, too.

“Or try spending a long weekend in Detroit,” Garrison said.

While this season is looking bad compared to last year, people on the council ” mostly local business owners ” said the numbers don’t look so bad compared to just a few years ago.

“We’re comparing this season to the best thing we ever did and it’s depressing,” restaurant owner Brian Nolan said.

Gallery owner Rayla Kundolf said her business this year is comparable to 2006. And, she said, fellow business owners “can breathe again” when she tells them to look back a couple of years.

But business owners have already made their plans for this season, and many are banking on a good snow year.

Garrison said he isn’t’ sure if snow is a “trump card or a wild card.”

“My own suspicion is that it’s a wild card,” Garrison said. “Snow probably has more impact on near-in guests. Your loyal destination guests don’t count on snow.”

Which is where the idea of “value” comes in.

While there are attractive airfares and lodging deals available now, Garrison cautioned lodge and business owners to find ways to stay loyal to their loyal guests. That’s going to be crucial, he said, because anecdotal evidence indicates that people who own second homes and fractional units in Vail are using them instead of renting them out. That, he said, could further skew reservation numbers.

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