Summer occupancy numbers level off in Park City, around the West
Revenues, however, continue to rise in resort towns
There haven’t been many more visitors flocking to Park City this summer than in previous years, but the ones who’ve come have opened their wallets like never before.
According to data from the Park City Chamber/Bureau, the Park City area is poised to finish the summer — defined as May through October — with a year-over-year occupancy increase of roughly 1 percent, buoyed mostly by a strong July. Meanwhile, revenues so far this summer are up about 9 percent.
The trend is in line with what other resort towns are experiencing. According to Inntopia, a firm that tracks the performance of 19 resort destinations in the West, including Park City, occupancy is roughly flat throughout the region this summer, while revenues, up 8.4 percent, are on pace to set a record for the sixth straight year.
Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Chamber/Bureau, said the effect locally varies by industry.
“The guest is spending more money and there’s more tax revenue generating from the guest, but there’s not a lot more customers,” he said. “If you’re in the restaurant business, maybe the price of the item is higher, but do you have all your tables filled? That’s the challenge.”
Regionally, the mix of flat occupancy and rising rates is unusual, and it follows a stretch of several years that have seen occupancy records fall. Tom Foley, director of business intelligence for Inntopia, said in a July press release that, while lodgers are capitalizing on a booming economy to drive up prices, the trend could eventually spell trouble.
“While this pattern works well for the bottom line, when we see a trend like this persist, there is concern that the lower income segment of our customer base may be getting forced out of the market by the steady rate increases,” he said.
In Park City, occupancy has leveled off after a streak of several years of summer growth coming out of the recession as companies again began to book corporate retreats and incentive trips. Malone said the town experienced a wave of group travel, but that surge has slowed this summer. Meanwhile, leisure travel has remained steady but hasn’t made the gains necessary to boost the occupancy rate.
Despite that, the Chamber/Bureau remains focused on elevating Park City into one of the West’s top summer destinations, Malone said. Whereas the footprint of the organization’s winter advertising stretches across the country, summer marketing efforts to lure leisure visitors are much more localized. The focus is on California and the Southwest — areas within a day’s drive from Park City. And as the summer progresses, the messaging begins to incorporate the town’s fall allure, as well, to draw empty nesters once school is back in session.
The challenge, though, comes in prying visitors away from the competition. In the winter, Park City is one of just a handful of world-renowned ski destinations in the United States. In the summer, the town is often overshadowed by national parks and places like Jackson, Wyoming, which has a long-standing reputation as a summer sanctuary.
“It’s more difficult,” Malone said. “It’s everything from national parks to backyard swimming pools to amusement parks. … This is a great place to go on a summer vacation, but we’re competing with places whose summers are financially closer to our winters.”
At the same time, the Chamber/Bureau continues to ramp up efforts to entice business and group travel by targeting meeting planners who work with corporations throughout the country. Those reservations, Malone said, are typically made a year or two in advance.
Overall, Malone would have been pleased to see a 5 or 10 percent increase in occupancy this summer. But he remains optimistic the town is becoming more known for its offerings other than its skiing.
“As the product matures, we become better known for a lot of things that are independent of season like culinary offerings and arts and culture,” he said. “Those types of things will help build it.”
In May, the long-time owners, Joy and Geir Vik, announced their retirement and passed on the business to the Brian and Dena Merrill, and their son, Dylan, who had been their friends and colleagues for years.
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