Lodging patterns change as ski season approaches
Winter promises a return to the slopes after the ski season abruptly ended last March, but local businesses and lodging companies are waiting to see just how many tourists will travel in the coming months.
Over the summer, lodging tax in Winter Park has floated below the year-to-date revenues, but August saw a major boost up 60% compared to the previous year. Year-to-date lodging is still 32% below what it was this time last year while sales tax excluding lodging is down 9%.
Though August revenue was up locally, an analysis from Inntopia’s DestiMetrics market briefing tracking lodging performance in resort destinations including Colorado has seen a larger downward trend in actual occupancy. Revenue from the reporting companies was down 17.3% while occupancy was down 22.3%.
That analysis also found that short-term arrivals for August jumped up by 31.7%, a trend also seen locally.
Because of the increase in more spontaneous bookings, lodging is even harder to predict. Local data has shown that the “window” between booking a reservation and the actual visit has shrunk significantly this year.
Catherine Ross, executive director of the Winter Park & Fraser Chamber of Commerce, explained that last year’s out of state bookings for the area were about 100 days ahead of time. This year, it’s more like a month.
As for in state visitors, the window has shrunk even further. Bookings are occurring anywhere from 48 hours in advanced to being booked as the guests travel up from Denver.
“When it comes to Colorado guests — who are our main source, especially this year with COVID and people not feeling secure about traveling — we’re definitely seeing the shortest window we’ve ever seen when it comes to people making their reservations,” Ross said.
The smaller windows between booking and arrivals may paint a bleaker forecast of the upcoming ski season than is necessarily true. The DestiMetrics analysis said that on-the-books arrivals from November through February are down 41.7% compared to this time last year.
However, Ross said that in the past few weeks bookings for November have picked up and are now on pace for what they were last year. She added that a month ago no one seemed to be booking for December, but things are looking better as the season nears.
“We’re still quite a bit off from where we were this time last year for December, but it has picked up in the last two weeks quite a bit,” she said.
Winter Park Resort began releasing information last month about what the ski season will look like, which may play a part in consumer’s confidence when booking lodging. Assured that Winter Park will have a ski season with COVID-19 precautions in place, tourists might be more willing to commit to a visit.
The resort announced last month that season pass holders would not need reservations, but that daily ticket holders would be required to buy their tickets in advance. What this will mean for tourism trends in the ski season is hard to tell, but consumers are showing more interest.
“We’re optimistic about the winter,” Ross said. “Season pass sales are strong for Winter Park. We feel like the Colorado guests will be coming for sure.”
As for out of state visitors, the chamber is working to communicate both local health regulations and business operations as clearly as possible.
While visitors from states with less strict COVID-19 restrictions than Colorado may not be thrilled about mask requirements, Ross said it is important that coronavirus regulations be up front and easily accessible to visitors. In fact, it might actually make a visit to Winter Park more attractive for the majority of tourists.
“Guests want to feel safe,” Ross said. “In general, research is showing that people want to know that the communities they’re going to are safe.”
The chamber is also looking for ways to benefit other businesses. They are hoping to launch a mobile website in time for ski season that will let visitors know what businesses are open when, which require reservations and who offers take out.
The biggest factor for tourism isn’t coronavirus, though. Snow has always played a huge part in the ski season and — with an unseasonably warm October in Grand — the winter weather weighs on the chamber.
“We’re trying to address the things we can control,” Ross said. “Obviously, weather’s not one of them, but weather’s something we worry about.”
Forecasting snow isn’t something the chamber can do, and even lodging predictions, though based on data, are just those — predictions.
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Over the 25 years the Winter Park Pub has been open, it’s built a reputation as a popular ski hole for locals and visitors alike.