Reflecting on a one-of-a-kind tourism season in Snowmass Village
With an eye on summer, Snowmass tourism director shares the upshots of the winter season
With the 2020-21 winter season now the rear-view mirror and summer not far down the road, the spring offseason is a chance to gather feedback on the winter season and think about what’s to come, too.
“This is a time of reflection,” Snowmass Tourism Director Rose Abello said April 26. And in a season abundant in do-it-yourself activities and new initiatives, there’s plenty to reflect on.
“I feel like we did a lot of things — kind of took a lot of swings at the bat, at the plate and just tried to hit some, and I think we did. I think we managed to get some things right, which is great and certainly a learning (opportunity),” she said.
In the “home run” category, Abello counts events and activations like Snowmass Luminescence, free s’mores and a series of fireworks displays. There also were a few misses, she noted — “Kiss and Ride” drop-off locations weren’t as popular as expected, and Plexiglas planters that Snowmass Tourism set up around the Mall and Base Village didn’t get quite as much use as they could have, Abello said.
The group sales team was constantly working to book — and rebook, and sometimes rebook again — groups whose plans changed due to the pandemic. And while most Snowmass Tourism marketing materials focus on outdoor, socially distanced activity anyway, that team also collaborated with other local entities to create universal messaging on COVID-19 protocols.
One big takeaway from this season’s work in the tourism department: “Demand is not guaranteed, and we saw that vividly in January and February,” she said. Snowmass dropped to ninth place in occupancy among mountain resorts according to data collected by the lodging analytics group DestiMetrics; last year, Snowmass was fourth overall, and the town held the top spot in the 2018-19 season.
Numbers-wise, the 2020-21 season is a tricky one to boil down: year-over-year stats are skewed because of closures and stay-at-home orders last March and April, and month-to-month data hinges on variable factors like COVID-19 dial levels, events and mountain operations.
Though spring stats look a bit better than midwinter, they’re still not up to past season standards. March occupancy rates typically run in the 70s but this year finished around 62%, according to Abello; the last time winter occupancy was that low for the entire month was 2009, during the recession. (Year-over-year comparisons show an 81% increase this March versus March 2020, but those stats were impacted by last year’s pandemic-related shutdowns.)
“The people who say that, ‘oh, the people are going to come no matter what’ — we just proved that that’s not true,” Abello said.
Two factors may have contributed to the drop: a loss in international travel — which is a significant portion of January business in Snowmass — and a dip in interest due to local capacity restrictions, Abello said.
Even so, the average daily rate for a room in Snowmass was only about 5% lower than it was in years past, according to Abello. So even though there were fewer people coming to the area, those who did visit saw a comparable value in the experience, Abello said; lodging stakeholders didn’t have to discount rooms in a “fire sale” in order to attract guests.
There’s a chance April numbers could end up close to normal occupancy for the month, according to Abello.
“April could be strong, but we’ll see — I don’t have a really good sense of April, how it’s going to finish,” Abello said.
The month hinges on a variety of factors, like weather, closing day for the resorts and when Easter falls. The year-over-year numbers will look good for the month any way you slice it because pandemic lockdowns last spring meant numbers were close to zip.
But no matter how the end-of-season stats shake out, Abello is grateful for the community’s efforts to ensure a winter season could happen.
“Really, the fact that we were able to get open and stay open as a community, it speaks volumes to all the men and women who worked so hard at hotels and at restaurants and in transit and at the hospital and in the tents and at the (vaccination) clinics and at the testing to make it happen,” Abello said. “And I think that that is something the entire community can be proud of.”
Rose Abello has an optimistic view of the summer outlook, she said.
“I think it’s going to be a strong summer. I am hopeful that we will get back to 2019 numbers for the summer,” Abello said. “Last summer was strong, but it was a slow start.”
A stacked slate of summer events and programming is on deck, and it’s increasingly likely that so is the free Thursday night concerts on Fanny Hill. The event has been in a state of pandemic limbo over the past two months as Snowmass Tourism evaluated public health guidance on summer events.
Abello said the town is submitting a special events permit application to Pitkin County for approval to put up the Fanny Hill stage and will work with public health officials to meet any and all requirements to be able to continue the live music tradition.
“I’m excited, optimistic and confident that we will be able to put up the stage on Fanny Hill and have our Thursday concert series,” Abello said. “Now what the asterisks (are) with that (are) what the restrictions are going to be and how we’re going to do it, but we’re going to do it.”
With many lingering questions still surrounding the fate of Aspen’s historic Old Powerhouse, City Council decided during Monday’s work session to hold off on providing staff direction on moving the preservation project forward until more information can be presented.