Based upon current reservations, the six-month period from November 2009 to April 2010 is projected to end 8-10 percent ahead of the same period one year earlier – a substantial increase from a projection made less than three months ago in mid-December that put this year’s occupancy down 2 percent compared to last year.
“I do believe that overall we’re going to end up ahead of last year,” said Telluride Tourism Board (which is also known as Marketing Telluride, Inc.) Chief Executive Officer Scott McQuade.
“The numbers are starting to show us some first signs of hope that we are making improvements,” in occupancy rates, he said.
Nevertheless, “That’s a projection,” based upon bookings for the remainder of the season continuing at a similar pace, he cautioned. “It could go terribly south.”
The season began with occupancy for November 2009 down 33 percent to 6.1 percent from 9.2 percent during the same month one year earlier.
By December 2009, occupancy had improved to 34.4 percent, but that number still represented an 8.7 percent decrease from a 37.6 percent occupancy rate during December 2008.
But with January showing a year-over-year increase of 8.3 percent to 49.2 percent occupancy from 45.4 percent in January 2009, and February a 9.6 percent increase to 49.4 percent from 45.1 in February 2009, the negative trend reversed itself.
The final two months of the season, March and April, are pacing 12.6 and 16.7 percent ahead of last year, respectively.
“We’ve been really gaining ground this winter,” said McQuade.
Telluride’s pattern mimics a wider trend reported recently in a press release from the Mountain Travel Research Program. In it the company stated that as of Jan. 31 reservations and occupancy for the remainder of the season in the 15 mountain destination communities it tracks in Colorado, Utah, California and British Columbia “continued to edge up.”
Still, it is not the largest of strides.
“We’re comparing ourselves this year against a previous year that was not what we had hoped for,” said industry analyst and MTRiP director Ralf Garrison.
“It’s more like trying to jump the low bar than trying to jump the high bar,” he continued.
But, Garrison said, Telluride has gotten a reputation in recent years for better and more consistent snow through the winter season than other destinations.
“That bodes well for Telluride as it powers through this attempt to jump last year’s low bar,” he said.
The tradeoff for Telluride’s improved occupancy numbers is lower room rates, however, McQuade said.
“People are coming, but lodges are not getting as good of rates as they have in the past,” he said. “It’s happening to everyone; everyone is in discount mode.”
In January, for example, the average daily rate for a local lodging unit decreased nearly 18 percent from the previous year to $206 from $251 in 2008.
The Aspen Times recently reported that although the average occupancy for local hotels during the month of January was about 68 percent – a decrease of 1.6 percent from the same month last year – the average daily rate for a lodging unit decreased 6.4 percent – a trend that was expected to continue in February and March.
McQuade said that Telluride’s performance among a competitive set of 12 other destination resorts is about average.
“We’re in the middle of the pack,” both for occupancy and rate, he said.
“We’re not exceeding others’ performance, but we’re certainly not at the bottom, either,” he continued.
Lodging reservations already on the books for the month of May show a decrease to .3 percent from 2 percent last year, a nearly 85 percent decrease. Those numbers are somewhat improved for June, which, at 7.6 percent occupancy, is tracking 16.7 percent behind the same month last year.
But an industry-wide trend of vacationers booking their trips within a few weeks of departure – not months as they did in the past – means it’s much too early to know how the summer will ultimately pan out.
“A lot more people are sitting on the fence and waiting for the deals,” said McQuade.
“People are not committing well in advance.”