National factors shaping winter outlook

CBMR says they’re “in better shape than most areas”

Early indications of winter vacation reservations at two of the largest lodging operations in Crested Butte are pacing down over this time last year, but officials at Crested Butte Mountain Resort say despite the slide, the local ski area is faring much better than some of its competitors.

 

 

 

“We’re really kind of bucking the trend,” says CBMR chief executive officer Ken Stone.
Whether they’re coming to ski the extremes or just to gather with family, the number of vacationing visitors bunked up at local condos and lodges is a good indication of how busy the winter season will be.
At the resort, per-night room reservations are down 6 percent from the same time last year, Stone says, and overall airline tickets sold are also down, despite having airline service to several new markets. Stone says the airline load factors (a measurement of how full each plane is) are also about 6 percent down over last year. However, Stone says, if CBMR and the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority hadn’t been able to acquire air service to the new markets, the resort could easily be facing more serious losses.
Stone says December lodging reservations are looking pretty good, but the booking pace for January through March is slower.
For the second-largest lodging operation in the Gunnison Valley, Crested Butte Lodging general manager Wanda Bearth says bookings for Christmas week are down 30 percent over last year. “That’s mostly due to a decline in group bookings,” she says. “We’re paying particular attention to Christmas week right now.”
Bearth says February through June reservations are currently looking up.
According to an October 16 article in the Denver Post, “Ski-resort bookings heading downhill,” ski market analysts Mountain Travel Research Project report that vacation bookings are down nearly 20 percent for all Colorado ski areas.
In the same article, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz reports that lodging bookings across their resorts are 17.7 percent down over last season.
Winter Park resort is reporting a 20 percent increase in its bookings, which resort officials attribute to their close proximity to Denver and expanded lodging selections.
National ski area visits are also trending down. In an October 20 article on CNN.com, “Ski resorts hope plenty of snow beats weak economy,” a representative from the National Ski Areas Association says there could be a drop of 2.5 million visitors to U.S. resorts this season, down from a record-setting 60.5 million visits last season.
Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont, one of CBMR’s sister resorts under the Triple Peaks LLC banner owned by Tim and Diane Mueller, is also seeing mixed activity. Public relations director Bonnie MacPherson says lodging bookings are slightly down over last year, and some days the phone lines for reservations hardly ring at all. Other days, there aren’t enough people to answer. “Our call volume has been somewhat of a roller-coaster ride.” Unfortunately, MacPherson says, the latter half of October has been very slow.
On the plus side, group sales at Okemo are up 40 percent and season pass sales are also up. Okemo opens on November 15.
Like Winter Park, MacPherson says, Okemo benefits from its close proximity to urban areas, and has a strong “drivers” market. “That’s one of the big features we have going. We’re pretty accessible,” she says.
Stone says CBMR is in a different ballpark and refers to some of the larger resorts along the I-70 corridor as discount vacation spots, whereas Crested Butte is a destination resort.
“We’re a different model as a destination ski area. Obviously there’s going to be a smaller market share. So it’s a matter of being really smart in how we market ourselves,” Stone says.
The resort has begun offering incentive programs to entice people to come, such as a “buy two, get one free” airline ticket program, “Stay and ski free,” and others. But while those incentives help, Stone says, they’re not enough to provide a serious competitive advantage over larger resorts. “We can’t win against the big super-tanker ski areas… We can’t win with a discount strategy,” Stone says.
So, he says, the resort tries to add value to a vacation. One such strategy the resort is implementing is a points-based rewards system. Customers will earn points for buying lift ticket packages, extra lodging nights, spa visits and snowcat rides. Once a certain number of points are reached CBMR will give vacationers two round-trip airline tickets to visit the resort again.
Another thing that’s helping the resort beat the blues this winter, according to CBMR Director of Central Reservations and Revenue Management Jeff Moffett, is the particular cities CBMR is marketing to. Moffett says vacationers in Dallas and New Orleans don’t appear as affected by the national economic slump, and seem to have isolated mini-economies that are strongly fueled by both land-based and off-shore oil industries. “The micro-economy for those places is pretty good,” Moffett says.
While individual room nights are down a bit at CBMR, Stone says vacationers are getting higher-class rooms and are booking to stay longer than average in the past, so revenue is actually up for the ski area. “There will probably be fewer people overall, but they’ll be staying longer,” Stone says.
Finally, the price of fuel has plummeted in the last few weeks and that’s having an effect on airfares. Moffett says some fares for direct service in Crested Butte are as low as $300 right now, but he says people shouldn’t expect the low fares to remain indefinitely. Moffett says at some point those planes will fill up and prices will jump back again. “We don’t want people to wait too long and think because (fares are) down they’ll stay down. If you see a fare in the $300 range that’s as good as it’s going to get,” he says.
Stone and Bearth both agree that more people might drive to Crested Butte because gas prices are down. “Since gas is going down we’re anticipating it may help with the drive market,” Bearth says.
CBMR is scheduled to open for the winter season on Wednesday, November 26.

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