Colorado hill station destinations get pause after bookings surge in August

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Mountain destinations emerge from the summer season with a pleasant surprise: a jump in bookings in August, leaving much of the hotel sector already confident of this year’s success.

The August increase broke an eight-month trend of falling bookings, outpacing the pace set in August 2019 and 2021, according to September analysis by DestiMetricswhich is part of Inntopia’s business intelligence division.

September occupancy also jumped about 5% from 2021. Occupancy colloquially translates to “heads in bedsor the occupancy level of the room. Reservations refer to scheduled arrivals during this month and in the future. DestiMetric data rolls out towards the end of March.

But it’s unclear whether the jump in bookings was a trend or a failure. The booking pace of guest arrivals from September to March was down nearly 6% year-on-year, according to new data released Oct. 10.

DestiMetrics tracks lodging performance in resort destinations, compiling data from 17 mountain destinations in seven western states: Colorado, Utah, California, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

In Colorado, the analysis includes Aspen, Snowmass, Beaver Creek, Vail, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Keystone.

“It’s not entirely clear” what led to the August turnaround, said Tom Foley, senior vice president of Inntopia’s business intelligence division. Two potential factors at play include the natural shift to winter bookings in August and September and rising room rates that encourage travelers to “lock in a rate before it continues to climb.”

For most of the summer, “consumers were less engaged in at least mountain travel than they had been since roughly the rollout of vaccines,” with economic forces influencing their financial decisions, said Foley. But, “the rates were high enough to compensate for the drop in bookings”, he added, calling the previous season “a summer of very high incomes”.

While August attendance was down 5% from August 2021, the average daily rate – which assesses the revenue generated per occupied room — rose 5%, leaving revenue “essentially flat,” according to the analysis.

High room rates this summer and increased bookings in August are helping mountain destinations get off to a good start for the winter season. Looking forward to November through February, book occupancy is only down about 1% from the same period last year, to August 31.

“Things are actually trending slightly positive,” Foley said. This winter, “heavy snow is the determining factor – whatever the economic conditions.”

In recent months, a strong La Niña – a phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean based on surface water temperatures that tends to produce above normal snowfall north of Denver when it occurs – s is developed, which could be good fortune for mountain resorts.

The ski industry has another thing in its favor: “a consumer more affluent than the greater economy as a whole,” Foley said.

Robert Purdy, general manager of Viceroy Snowmass at 130 Wood Road in Snowmass Village, said the luxury resort “had a successful summer season as we hosted over 30 weddings, as well as multiple conventions.”

While leisure activity was above 2019 levels, it was still down from previous years, which Purdy attributes to the post-COVID reopening of international travel.

“International travel from Brazil, Australia and Mexico looks stronger than ever,” he added. Viceroy Snowmass is already “very good” for the coming winter, with Purdy indicating “very high” occupancy and average growth rates.

It plans to add a second tower — Cirque by Viceroy — with 48 two- and three-bedroom condo units available for purchase this winter because future business “looks so strong,” Purdy said.

Jonathan Reap, director of sales and marketing at Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail, described 2022 as “a very successful year” for the resort hotel.

“We had a slight drop mid-year, but last-minute travel plans combined with an epic drop brought travelers from all over to the Colorado Rockies,” he said.

Trends for the coming season are “very good” so far, although snowfall “will be a telltale sign of winter’s performance”, added Reap.

Kara Franker, CEO of Visit Estes Park, said the northern Colorado town also saw an increase in visitors this summer compared to 2021 and 2019.

In June and July, Estes Park saw an increase in length of stays, compared to 2021 data for the same months. In-state travel to Estes Park increased to nearly 40% last July from about 25% in July 2021, Franker added.

“Although fall data is still being collected, we expect to continue this trend of high visitation,” Franker said.

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