TELLURIDE – Three months ago a destination tourism expert told the lodging community at the Telluride Tourism Board/Marketing Telluride Inc. annual meeting that it would have to get creative if it wanted to survive during a winter season being shaped by low consumer confidence and flat demand.
“It’s the most adaptive who will survive,” Ralf Garrison, president of the Advisory Group of Denver, Inc., said at that time. The Advisory Group provides aggregate data on mountain destination guests and advance reservation patterns through its Mountain Travel Research Program, or MTRiP, report to the TTB and other resorts, and Garrison suggested at the mid-December meeting that Telluride would need to sharpen its marketing game to remain competitive throughout the 2010/2011 ski season.
Garrison noted then that while Telluride was running behind the other resorts in its competitive set for winter occupancy (down 1 percent, compared to an average 3 percent increase at the others), it was leading the pack in its attempts to raise room rates for the season with its average daily rate running 18 percent ahead of the previous year.
Now, with only a few weeks remaining in the ski season, the numbers seem to suggest that lodgers heeded the advice to proceed sensitively through the uncertain season to ultimately hold ground on occupancy while increasing average daily room rates, despite the challenges brought by a less than stellar season for snowfall.
“I feel like the lodgers did react positively to that, and we are seeing that in the current data,” said TTB/MTI Interim Director Kiera Skinner of the early season expert advice, pointing to a surge of activity in February for the same month bookings as an example.
During the month of January, which saw occupancy drop from 46 percent in 2010 to 43 percent in 2011 while average daily room rate increased 13 percent to $318 this year, the month of February looked to be pacing down about 15 percent behind last year.
By the end of February, however, occupancy for the same month had filled in to run just 1 percent behind the previous year, while average daily room rate increased 8 percent from $247 in 2010 to $267 in 2011.
That increased momentum is continuing in March, with occupancy rates poised to run 16 percent ahead of the same month last year, and average daily rates up 18 percent, from $270 in 2010 to $318 in 2011.
“With March being so strong I’m optimistic for the remainder of the ski season,” said Skinner, who temporarily replaced former TTB/MTI Chief Executive Officer Scott McQuade at the helm of the regional marketing organization upon his resignation for a similar position in coastal Atlanta about three months ago. The TTB/MTI board of directors expects to identify McQuade’s replacement by the end of the month, she said.
“The numbers that we have are positive overall for the season,” Skinner continued, noting that the core months of December 2010 through March 2011 are pacing 1.5 percent ahead of the same period last year while boasting an average daily room rate increase of 12 percent.
“I think that we’ve had great cooperative marketing with destination stakeholders,” she said. “There was good in-season rate adjustment and responsiveness by community partners,” she continued. “…[I] think a lot of lodging properties offered promotional rates when needed.”
But where Skinner and the TTB/MTI see some forward momentum during this challenging year, Telluride Ski Resort CEO Dave Riley predicted a decrease in skier visits compared to last year during an update he gave to local elected officials during an intergovernmental meeting on Monday.
“We started out strong in December,” he said, describing January and February as “lousy” in contrast to a “pretty strong” March.
“Overall we will be down in skier visits,” he said, adding that “season pass usage is down.”
Summer visits to the region look promising, Skinner said, with advanced bookings up some 45 percent.
“What we’re seeing in the summer is advanced bookings for festivals like Mountainfilm and Bluegrass,” she said. “I think that’s why we’re ahead for the second quarter.
May advanced bookings are showing 3 percent occupancy compared to 1 percent this time last year, while and June is showing 21 percent occupancy versus 11 percent.
“I think it’s the advanced bookings for the festivals and a lot of the lodgers are offering specials and promotions earlier than last year, which is resulting in increased occupancy rates,” Skinner said.