Occupancy Soft at Western Mountain Destinations Despite Bookings Boost

SAM Magazine—Winter Park, Colo., Dec. 19, 2022—Consistent, and in some cases, abundant snowfall across many western mountain resorts compared to last year gave November bookings a boost, particularly for November and December arrivals.DestimetricsHNWeb But economic variables have prevented 2022 from sustaining the rebound recovery of 2021, and are likely to remain a challenge through the remainder of the winter, according to the most recent Market Briefing from DestiMetrics, part of the Business Intelligence division of Inntopia. 

This seasonal forecast for mountain lodging covering 17 mountain communities across seven states includes data collected through Nov. 30. That said, the recent storm system that delivered pre-holiday snow to resorts across the West and Rockies could portend a stronger December and holiday season than this current data set anticipates.

Decent Launch to Winter Season

The winter of 2022-23 is looking more typical than the past few years, but economic uncertainty and societal changes ranging from work schedules to availability of seasonal employees continues to impact destination travel, according to the report. 

Compared to one year ago, actual occupancy for November was down 4.7 percent and the average daily rate (ADR) was virtually unchanged—down 0.6 percent. Compared to the pre-vaccine November 2020, though, occupancy this November was up a healthy 15.4 percent with ADR up an equally solid 13.3 percent. And compared to the pre-pandemic November 2019, occupancy was up 1.5 percent, but daily rates are up a dramatic 34.9 percent.

As of Nov. 30, on-the-books occupancy for the full winter from November through April is down 5.6 percent compared to last year with declines in all winter months except January. In contrast, aggregated daily rates for the season are up 9.1 percent year-over-year, showing increases in every month except a scant decline in November. 

Compared to 2020-21 at this time, the dramatic 66.9 percent increase in seasonal occupancy and 43.8 percent gain in ADR is expected. When compared to the pre-pandemic winter season of 2019-20, occupancy this year is up 4.5 percent with the ADR up an impressive 41.1 percent.

Snowfall Boosts Bookings

Widespread snowfall across much of the West boosted bookings during the month of November: November bookings made for arrivals for the months of November and December were up 24 and 21.5 percent year-over-year, respectively. Despite those gains, bookings made in November for arrivals in November through April are down 3.3 percent. 

“That 3.3 percent decline in overall bookings is entirely due to soft bookings for arrivals from January through April, but that’s an improvement from the end of October data when bookings were down 4.1 percent,” said Tom Foley, senior vice president of business intelligence for Inntopia. 

“This is the tenth month in 2022 that the year-over-year booking pace has been down as consumers respond to economic declines,” Foley added. “But the big boost in bookings made in November for arrivals in November and December was very welcome and reinforces what we’ve reported for the past 20 years—which is that good snow will move the booking needle, even with economic uncertainty and challenges.”

Bookings made in November for arrival in December were the third strongest on record—behind only November 2009 when recovery from the Great Recession was spurring bookings, and last November (2021) when a strong economy and the post-pandemic pent-up demand combined to send bookings surging.

Other Trends

The report notes that, overall, room nights available (RNA) are down for the winter season, which impacts the occupancy data. Although the available inventory has improved from last month, there are currently 1.95 percent fewer nights available for rent at participating mountain resorts this winter than last winter.

Length-of-Stay, which climbed dramatically during 2020 and 2021, continued to decline in November with bookings during the month down an average of 0.39 nights compared to the pre-pandemic benchmark. 

“Ongoing declines in rooms available for nightly rentals is masking the actual number of room nights being booked, which is driven by both lower volume and shorter lengths of stay,” said Foley. “But despite economic pressures, exceptionally strong daily rates are currently offsetting the lower occupancy figures and generating more revenue per night.” 

“But,” Foley cautioned, “the financial issues are real and likely to last through the winter. And, while continued good snowfall can mitigate tough economic times, if Mother Nature doesn’t deliver, it will create challenges for lodging properties to manage revenue—with either a potential decrease in visitors or lowering rates to entice additional skiers while maintaining service level with smaller staffs.”

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