Ski-resort bookings heading downhill

Date: Oct. 16th, 2008

Ski-resort bookings heading downhill
By Elizabeth Aguilera
The Denver Post
Article Last Updated: 10/16/2008 02:54:06 AM MDT

Lodging reservations in Colorado's ski-resort communities are down for a third straight month at a time of the year when reservation lines are usually jumping.

Reservations taken in September for all future dates were down 19.8 percent compared with the same period a year ago, according to the Mountain Travel Research Program, which aggregates booking data from resort communities across the state. In August, reservations were down 25 percent, and in July, they were down 10 percent.

"We don't expect guests to be comfortable making important, expensive discretionary spends when there is uncertainty in the financial markets, a lack of leadership because of a lame-duck president and election-year politics and before snow comes along," said Ralf Garrison, director of the Advisory Group, which released the data from the Mountain Travel Research Program.

The MTRP also found that as of Sept. 30, total advance reservations through March 2009 are down 8.9 percent and the average daily room rate is down 2 percent over that time, the first time since 2004 there has been a decrease in rates.

Vail Resorts Inc., which operates Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Breckenridge and Heavenly, near Lake Tahoe, has experienced an 8.4 percent decline in the number of pass sales and a 17.7 percent drop in room nights booked compared with the same period last year, chief executive Rob Katz said on a recent earnings call.

Resort operators and experts say consumers are waiting longer to book and are booking closer to the time of travel than they have in the recent past. This trend is reminiscent of the period after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We need the financial uncertainty to settle itself, the presidential election to get over and an onset of winter to show itself, hopefully with a foot and a half of snow during 'Monday Night Football,' " Garrison said.

Across the state, ski executives are hoping for plenty of snow, which tends to trump other factors. In previous years, total skier visits haven't been affected by consumer confidence, but the lodging situation remains to be seen.

In Aspen, the holidays are being booked quickly, although reservations for the rest of the season are slow, said Jeff Hanle, spokesman for Aspen Skiing Co.

"It's a tradition people don't want to give up on," Hanle said of holiday bookings. "Otherwise, we feel people will wait longer to book."

Winter Park Resort has escaped the downward trend. The resort is tallying a 20 percent to 30 percent gain over last year at this time, said Gary DeFrange, president and chief operating officer.

The resort has added 200 units to its lodging at the base of the mountain. "It is because it's new and because of its location, and because we were not able to meet the demand in that location until now," he said.