Weather boosts hotel bookings | AspenTimes.com

Weather boosts hotel bookings

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

Jake Hartley, an Aspen Elementary School third-grader, smiles for the camera as his mom, Li, looks on at the Aspen Skiing Co.'s Two Creeks ticket office. Friday was the last day for locals to purchase season passes at early-season prices and the line wrapped around the building into the late afternoon. Snowfall this week is also expected to boost business this winter from out-of-town guests.

October and November may be offseason months in the Aspen and Snowmass Village areas, but mild fall weather and a recent winter storm have made big differences in paid-occupancy rates, especially in Snowmass.

Snowmass saw a 44 percent increase in occupancy numbers in October compared with the same time last year. Snowmass also shows a 36 percent increase from May through October compared with 2013.

The increase in Snowmass occupancy numbers ties in with the record sales tax numbers Snowmass enjoyed this past summer, with an increase of almost 18 percent from June through September compared with 2013. The addition of the Tough Mudder obstacle race in Snowmass in September brought in about 10,000 participants and spectators, according to a recent report by the Snowmass Finance Department.

Aspen's increases in both periods were less than 1 percent, but Aspen could be in store for a late increase in lodging numbers if the weather cooperates.

Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, said he was happy with the October occupancy numbers and is optimistic that November also will show increases in the Aspen and Snowmass areas.

"Good news all the way around," Tomcich said. "October and November are traditionally slow months. It doesn't take a lot of business to see some really nice increases. I think part of it was the really nice weather we had in October that made it seem like an eternal fall foliage season. Indian summers aren't necessarily the best for winter bookings, but it sure was nice for last-minute October bookings."

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The latest report by tourism research firm DestiMetrics, released Friday, showed a 13.7 percent increase in October business at Western U.S. mountain resorts over October 2013.

"October, our last 'official' month of summer, was the strongest-gaining month of the season, increasing 13.7 percent from October last year, as marketers took advantage of fall colors, Halloween and competitive pricing to attract consumers during what has typically been an otherwise uneventful month," the report said.

With the Aspen and Snowmass ski areas set to open Nov. 27, Thanksgiving Day, and women's World Cup ski racing coming to Aspen for Nov. 28 to 30, Tomcich said there's a solid chance this area could see another increase in last-minute reservations.

"It really comes down to the quality of skiing offered that weekend," he said. "That's a weekend that traditionally fills up at the last minute. Some come for the races, some for the holiday, but as far as people coming for a ski trip over Thanksgiving, those are usually last-minute bookings. So if we end up with some quality skiing at that time, it could certainly stimulate some last-minute bookings."

Both the Viceroy Snowmass and the St. Regis in Aspen reported spikes in reservations since the snow began falling locally this past week, which echoes the trends in the DestiMetrics report.

"While snow is always a consideration, in this early season, it's last year's 'snow equity' that is most instructive to the destination guest booking patterns," the report said. "However, by this time next month, snow becomes more of a wild card, especially for the local and regional markets that are well-positioned to take short-term advantage of snowfall and least impacted by the logistical realities of destination travel. Since Oct. 31, the vast majority of destinations, including the Far West, have received at least some natural snow or had temperatures cold enough to make it, and this will have a positive impact on bookings."

Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said the polar vortex that's currently impacting most of the U.S. is a very good thing for the ski industry.

"When cold weather grips areas where there's skiers, they start putting their bikes and golf clubs away and direct their focus on skiing," Hanle said. "It certainly helps when we get national coverage about snow in Colorado and snow in Aspen, but it's even better when there's cold weather everywhere as it gets people thinking about skiing and going on ski trips."

Hanle said he doesn't expect a big increase in occupancy numbers for November, even with solid ski conditions, but that doesn't mean early snow isn't an advantage.

"Since we're opening for skiing on the 27th, you won't see a ton of future bookings in November because there's only four days of skiing until the end of the month," he said. "But if the weather cooperates and we see good early conditions, that will only help increase interest for the rest of the year."

mmclaughlin@aspentimes.com