Summer swoon takes toll on Park City lodging industry
September 16, 2016
By one estimation, more visitors have flocked to western resort towns this summer than ever before — so many, in fact, that the numbers are rivaling those seen during the winter months.
But Park City, where summer has become an increasingly important season for the business community, has seemingly been left out of the fun. According to Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, occupancy this summer — defined, in this case, as the period from May 1 to October 31 — has been down 3 percent from 2015's marks.
It's not a large decline, Malone said, but it's far from the record-setting visitation pace seen elsewhere in the West. According to DestiMetrics, a firm that tracks the performance of 19 western resort towns, including Park City, overall occupancy is up 7.4 percent from last summer. The firm in a press release indicated it expects the final tally of summer visitors to eclipse last year's record number, which nearly equaled the occupancy rates for the 2015-2016 winter season.
"We're trying to get our heads around that," Malone said. "It isn't a huge amount, and it surely didn't feel like it was less busy, so we're trying to figure that out."
The numbers paint the picture of an up-and-mostly-down summer. Malone said May's occupancy was about even with last year's; June's was down nearly 10 percent; July's and August's dropped 2 percent; September booking (as of Aug. 31) were up 9 percent; and October bookings (as of Aug. 31) had dipped 19 percent.
Malone said the Chamber/Bureau intends to dig further into the data at the end of October, when the final booking data for the summer is available. One key consideration will be what percentage of visitors was leisure vacationers and what chunk was business travelers.
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"That could help us out to get our arms around this," he said. "Was group business up but leisure business was down further? Or was group business down — a couple of conventions that we may have had last year that we didn't have this year? Where is that impact?"
Another thing for businesses to keep in mind, Malone said, is that the occupancy numbers aren't infallible. For one thing, they don't capture people who travel in from the Salt Lake Valley for the day (although Malone admits those visitors typically spend less in town than those who stay overnight). More importantly, is the fact that the data samples only about 50 percent of lodging properties in town — so perhaps the numbers aren't painting a full picture.
"Were there properties out there that did much better than the 50 percent of properties that we're looking at?" he said. "I always feel that (the data) is the best we know of out there, but there might be some variables."
Malone also said it's also unknown whether Park City is the only resort town that DestiMetrics tracks to experience a slight summer swoon. The Chamber/Bureau doesn't have access to broken-down data that shows how other resort towns are faring. That means it's hard to say whether the 7.4-percent increase in occupancy is spread among several resorts or just a few of them.
"Are the towns that are doing amazing the towns that are on the edges of national parks?" Malone said. "Or was it mainly Colorado? We don't know exactly."
Despite this year's dip, the summer has become a crucial period for Park City businesses in recent years. Malone said summer visitation had grown nearly every year since 2007. And while summer lodging revenues don't come close to winter because properties aren't charging the same rates, restaurants and other merchants have particularly benefitted from the trend.
"A bottle of wine at the liquor store is the same price in the winter or summer," he said.
Other resort towns have also seen summer become vital. That's why this year's record-setting occupancy pace throughout the West has been so encouraging, said Ralf Garrison, director of DestiMetrics, in a press release.
"The summer and shoulder season months have clearly emerged as destination periods in their own right," he said, "and these mountain resort communities are now positioned as bona fide year-round destinations when not so long ago they were viewed almost solely as ski towns."