Low Snow Curbed Western Destination Visits in January

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SAM Magazine-Denver, Feb. 17, 2012-Recent shifts in storm systems that brought much-needed snow to many western resorts came too late to boost early season destination travel, with hotel occupancy declining 3.7 percent during the month of January, according to the most recent data from the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP). The booking pace for arrivals in January through June dropped more dramatically, down 23.8 percent compared to the same time last year, based on MTRiP's sample of 265 property management companies in 15 mountain communities in Colorado, Utah, California and Oregon.

The relative lack of snow in the first third of the season dashed the hopeful signs from last summer and fall, when advance bookings posted gains.

But the report includes some relatively good news, too. "Despite the dropoff in bookings, our data noted that as of Jan. 31, on-the-books occupancy for February is only down 1.9 percent. Positive snow equity from last year and encouraging changes in weather patterns are helping, and there is still enough time to cash in on pent-up skier demand if the snow keeps coming," said Ralf Garrison, director of MTRiP.

Overall results for the past six months, from August 2011 through January 2012, showed that occupancy was up 1.3 percent from the same time period last year. And while the pace of bookings dropped in January, bookings through July are still up .9 percent compared to a year ago.

The report also provides a measure of how both the economy and the weather impact destination visits. "This was an interesting month, as weather and the economy reversed positions from the past three years," observed Tom Foley, operations director for MTRiP. "Because of the improving economy, we saw room rates actually increase 2.3 percent during January compared to the same month a year ago." He added, "Occupancy figures took a hit, but not as severely as expected, since people appear to be feeling better about the economy."