Advance bookings starting to pick up |

Advance bookings starting to pick up

James Leveridge says his phones are starting to ring – just not off the hook. He is the general manager of Pinnacle Lodge in Fraser, where holiday bookings are finally coming in, but they’re just two weeks out from arrival.On the brighter side, he is excited about the new key card program.”It will be great for restaurants and lodging. I’ve seen the website and think the program is going to be a positive one for the area. I’ve worked in similar mountain towns with this kind of program and think that it will be good for everyone.” As for his lodging forecast, he says it’s hard to predict.”We can sit here and think March is going to be terrible and it’s tracking behind, but the lead time is so short due to the Internet. We need to be optimistic about what is being marketed, but it’s hard to say.” Sue Neumann, director of Winter Park Central Reservations, which includes Winter Park Resort and the Fraser Valley, said reservations for the season are looking positive and future reservations booked through Central Reservations are up over Thanksgiving and December compared with last year. “We always do well with early bookings coming off a successful snow year,” Neumann said. “Patterns and trends normally go that route.” Although she couldn’t provide specific numbers, she said reservations are pacing close to last year. The book-early promotion ended on Nov. 16 and Central Reservations soon will be rolling out the next offer that will include a fourth night free. Neumann said she is pleased to see the community businesses and lodging companies paying close attention to their bookings and filling open spaces.”As a community we are on a good path,” she said.

Ski resort trends across western ski resorts are looking positive according to Tom Foley, director of operations for Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP). His company provides marketing services to destination resorts around the country and supplies lodging metrics and market intelligence for the mountain travel industry. Foley says the optimistic outlook and increased bookings across the West may be due to what he calls “recession fatigue.” He says this phenomenon occurs when consumers reach a point of rationalizing expenses they couldn’t afford in the past.”Skiers and snowboarders identify strongly with their sport,” he said. “It’s part of what they do, part of their lifestyle, and they will find the money to spend. People want to go to their happy place and do what makes them feel good. It’s been very interesting watching the financial markets struggle, and yet ski and snowboard clients are resilient and continue to book.” On-the-books occupancy for the 15 destination resorts that supply forecast data are up 10.8 percent compared to the same time last year, according to the MTRiP report as of Oct. 31. While Foley couldn’t disclose numbers related to Winter Park, he notes that when ski towns have prior good snow years and continue a strong marketing presence, the exposure helps early-season bookings.One way to drive bookings has always been by nightly rate, but Foley believes that value-added services and partnering with other business is a great way to increase bookings. He says offering apres-ski specials, dinner specials, and free lift tickets are really helpful in a recession.

Erica Schwankl of Vacations Inc., based in Winter Park, says their experience is similar to many companies in town.”The booking lead is very short and there are not many week-long stays anymore,” she said.Customers are driving from the Front Range, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Schwankl is hopeful the key card program will be a positive addition to their marketing.”There is a bit of a learning curve, but once people can see the value and see what they can get, it will catch on,” she said, “Jeremy and Diane (of the Winter Park Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce) have done an awesome job setting up the program and getting it rolling.”Down-valley at SolVista Ski Basin, Marketing Manager Lisa Craig says that season pass sales are up over least year and early bookings on equipment rentals appear strong.But the lodging outlook is still uncertain, since many vacationers book within a short window of their vacation. SolVista, which opens on Dec. 14, is offering a special deal for locals on season passes, junior passes and four-packs to boost early-season sales.And in the Grand Lake area, Lisa Jonas, manager of Western Riveria, says until the snow flies, bookings for lodging have been “pretty quiet.””We don’t book as far in advance like summertime,” Jonas said.But there are bright spots, she said, such as the New Year’s holiday, the fishing contest in January and March, and a Pink Ribbon Riders snowmobiling group coming into town March 10-12. “We’re feeling pretty good actually about the reservations coming in so far,” said Melinda Besse, part owner of Grand Adventures snowmobile outfit serving the Winter Park and Grand Lake areas. Besse said the economic outlook for winter from her perspective is “looking pretty positive.” But, of course, any positive outlook can be overshadowed by an undesirable lack of snow or a severe cold spell, she said.In the end, it all depends on Mother Nature. So trying to predict the ski season based on advanced bookings this early in the season is as difficult as trying to predict the next snow storm, say many industry observers. Foley says snow will always trump the economy; so in accordance with local legend, put your Winter Park Resort, SolVista Basin, and Grand Lake trail maps in the freezer to attract plenty of it.- Reporter Tonya Bina contributed to this story

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