Good news abounds for local economy at Park City Chamber/Bureau luncheon
Uncertainty is swirling in the global economy, but the message Wednesday at the Park City Chamber/Bureau’s annual Economic Forecast Luncheon was all about optimism.
Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Chamber/Bureau, told a ballroom crowded with the organization’s members that, despite a few unusual trends, the 2015-2016 ski season has been a success so far. Then Marci Rossell, a renowned economist and keynote speaker of the event, delivered an address urging Park City business owners to put any fears about the recent stock market slowdown to rest.
Malone told attendees that occupancy for the ski season to date has outpaced last year’s numbers. In an interview with The Park Record after the luncheon, he attributed much of the success to Mother Nature doing her part by delivering plenty of fresh powder.
"I think it’s been real important because it sets a tone in the community," he said. "People are more confident in their businesses and confident in their decisions and in the future. We know that the last two years, with low snow, we did fairly well. But you know that’s not something that’s sustainable in the long-term. To have a winter like this with as much snow as we’ve had kind of centers everyone."
But the strong season has come with a bit of a twist for those in the tourism industry. In previous years, data showed many lodging bookings well in advance; looking at the data 45 days ahead painted a pretty accurate picture of what was going to happen. But this year, people seem to be booking trips much closer to their arrivals.
Malone said the trend could be attributed to the Chamber/Bureau receiving better data than in years past, or it could be representative of a larger shift in tourist behavior. But Park City is not the only resort town seeing the phenomenon.
"I don’t know if that has something to do with demographics or more millennial travel or what," he said. "But it is interesting that when I have that conversation with other Rocky Mountain resorts, they’re experiencing the same thing."
The trend caused a bit of anxiety early in the season, Malone acknowledged. now, however, the Chamber/Bureau has become more accustomed to it and is exploring whether it needs to alter the way it advertises to capitalize on the change. Visitors waiting until a few weeks out to book their vacations allows the Chamber/Bureau to target its advertising around specific dates rather than simply trying to sell a general Park City experience.
"We’re adjusting the messages to be less Park City brand and more about spring break and about springtime," Malone said. "And probably in future years, if this is the trend, we’ll probably be adjusting our advertising to be more focused on particular time periods. We’ll probably be moving more in that direction in the future. I don’t know that it’s good or bad — it’s just a change in how we have to adapt our marketing to our customers. You don’t just say, ‘Well, this is the only way we do it.’"
As Park City’s tourism industry has flourished this ski season, fears of a national or global recession have surfaced amid a stock market tumble. That would likely damage Park City businesses, which rely on people using discretionary income to visit town, but Rossell said there is little reason to worry. She told the audience that she expects the stock market downturn to be a temporary bump in the road, and that signs point to rising wages that will strengthen the consumer.
But not all the news was bright. Park City’s lodging industry has ground to make up in March if it wants to close the season stronger than last year, Malone said. And that could turn out to be easier said than done.
"The one piece that is kind of up in the air — and we never know how to react to it — is when parts of the country, like the East Coast, just don’t have skiing because of the warm weather," he said. "It’s hard to anticipate what that means as we get to spring time. Does that mean they’ve got pent-up demand, and they’re going to come, or does it mean that they’re over it? You never know what those types of changes are going to do."
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