Weather puts the heat on the lodging industry
Toward the beginning of January, Jim Bizily, owner of Park City Rental Properties, looked at the long-term weather forecast. What he saw left him discouraged.
"I looked at the forecast and was like, ‘Oh my gosh. We’re not going to fill up,’" he said.
So he took a drastic step to insulate his business from the possibility that unseasonably warm weather would influence some visitors not to visit Park City this winter. He began dropping the booking prices by 15 to 40 percent.
The weather since then has been warm and snow scarce. So while dropping prices means Bizily has taken a hit on revenue, it’s kept bookings relatively stable.
"We did it so early — we were probably the first ones to drop prices — that we’re actually up in nightly rentals this year over last year, though we’re definitely not up in revenue," he said.
Bill Malone, president of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, said the record-breaking high temperatures and lack of snowfall is a sizeable concern for the industry.
Though booking numbers so far this winter have been strong, people are hesitant to book a ski vacation to Park City, Malone said. And if the weather doesn’t change, it will likely stifle bookings through March. Even if there is snow soon, there’s a chance it will be coming too late.
"This prolonged period of warmth and lack of snowfall is holding people back," Malone said. "We hope it doesn’t go long enough that it holds them back for the rest of the season. Who knows — we may have the biggest snow month we’ve ever had in March. But have people already made their decisions whether to come here before that?"
If there’s a bright spot for Park City, it’s that few other ski resort towns in the west are faring much better. Chris Eggleton, president of the Park City Area Lodging Association and general manager of Newpark Resort Hotel & Conference Center, acknowledged that the lack of snow hurts but said the conditions on Park City’s mountains are relatively good. That’s helping stunt the effect of the warm weather.
"When Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, generally she’s not cooperating everywhere from the Pacific Ocean all the way to Colorado," he said. "I’ve talked to guests who have come out and have been like, ‘Yeah, it would sure beat Lake Tahoe or (Big Bear Mountain Resorts) because they just don’t have anything.’ So we still have, relative, a great product."
Eggleton said Newpark Resort has been cautious about spring promotions, noting that even people who have already booked lodging may still be within their cancellation periods.
"If it continues to go down south, that’s concerning," he said.
If the weather situation doesn’t become wintery, some within the lodging industry may be forced to take drastic measures, such as laying off seasonal staff.
"Most lodging properties have capacities to adapt, whether it’s staffing or whatever," Eggleton said. "That’s the challenge, though — it has a trickle effect. If we don’t get the guests in, it trickles down into job reductions. Maybe the seasonal, part-time workers are let go early."
Making the weather conditions even more disappointing for some is the fact there was a sense in the lodging industry before the winter that it was going to be one of the better ski seasons in recent memory.
"It’s a lesson you learn," Malone said. "Don’t take Mother Nature for granted. You could do all the things right and have everything line up, then you get a curveball with the weather. My hope is this changes dramatically next week, and we wouldn’t worry about it the rest of the year."
And if that doesn’t happen? It may be rough for some, but likely not disastrous, Eggleton said.
"I think resorts will adjust, lodging properties will adjust, restaurants will adjust," he said. "It will take a hit on the economy and impact our strategies, but I think the good thing is Park City has never been solely reliant on skiing. It’s still heavily reliant on it, but it’s not the only trick in our bag."
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