Mountain destinations are making it out of the summer season with a pleasant surprise: a jump in bookings in August, leaving much of the hospitality sector already confident in this year’s success.
The August boost broke a pattern of eight consecutive months of booking declines, surpassing the pace set in August 2019 and 2021, according to a September analysis by DestiMetrics, part of Inntopia’s business intelligence division.
September’s occupancy also jumped about 5% compared to 2021. Occupancy translates colloquially to “heads in beds,” or the level of room occupancy. Bookings refer to arrivals expected in that month and into the future. DestiMetric’s data runs through around March’s end.
But it’s unclear whether the jump in bookings was a trend or a blip. The booking pace for guest arrivals in September to March was down almost 6% in a year-over-year comparison, according to new data released on Oct. 10.
DestiMetrics tracks lodging performance at 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 drove 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.”
Over the bulk of the summer, “consumers were less engaged in at least mountain travel than they had been since pretty much the rollout of vaccines,” with economic forces influencing their financial decisions, Foley said. But, “rates were strong enough that they offset the declines in booking,” he added, calling the previous season “a very strong revenue summer.”
While August occupancy fell 5% compared to August 2021, the average daily rate – which assesses the revenues generated per occupied room – rose 5%, leaving revenues “essentially flat,” the analysis said.
This summer’s strong room rates and the August hike in bookings start mountain destinations off on a good note for the winter season. Looking forward at November through February, on-the-books occupancy is only down about 1% compared to this time last year, as of Aug. 31.
“Things are actually trending slightly positive,” Foley said. This winter, “strong snow is the determining factor – irrespective of economic conditions.”
In recent months, a strong La Niña – a phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean based on surface water temperatures that tend to produce above-normal snowfall north of Denver when it occurs – has developed, which could spell good fortune for mountain resorts.
The ski industry has another element in its favor: “a consumer that is more affluent than the greater economy overall,” Foley said.
Robert Purdy, general manager at Viceroy Snowmass at 130 Wood Road in Snowmass Village, said the luxury resort “had a successful summer season as we hosted over 30 weddings, along with multiple conventions.”
While the leisure business was above 2019 levels, it was still down from previous years, which Purdy credits to the post-COVID reopening of international travel.
“International travel from Brazil, Australia and Mexico looks stronger than we’ve ever seen,” he added. Viceroy Snowmass is already “pacing extremely well” for the upcoming winter, with Purdy pointing to “very high” occupancy and average growth rates.
It’s planning to add a second tower – Cirque by Viceroy – with 48 two- and three-bedroom condo units available for purchase this winter, as future business is “looking 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 experienced a slight decline mid-year but last-minute travel plans combined with an epic fall have lured travelers from all around up to the Colorado Rockies,” he said.
Trends for the upcoming season are “looking great” so far, although snowfall “will be a telltale sign of how winter will perform,” Reap added.
Kara Franker, CEO of Visit Estes Park, said the northern Colorado town also experienced a boost in the number of visitors this summer compared to both 2021 and 2019.
In June and July, Estes Park saw a jump in the length of stays, compared to 2021 data for the same months. The amount of in-state trips to Estes Park rose to almost 40% this past July compared to about 25% in July 2021, Franker added.
“Though the fall data is still being collected, we are expecting to continue this trend of strong visitation numbers,” Franker said.