Christmas and Sundance look good for lodging companies
The economy is bad, there isn’t much snow and the Park City lodging industry is feeling it.
The week before Christmas and the second weekend of the Sundance Film Festival are softer than the period after and before respectively, and this year appears to be weaker than usual.
The peak of the season is Dec. 26 to about Jan. 3, because people tend to prefer their own homes for Christmas morning, and have to get back to work soon after New Year’s Day. The second weekend of Sundance is traditionally slower than opening weekend despite the festival’s efforts to stagger films.
Stein Eriksen Lodge and Intermountain Lodging both reported having large group cancellations due to either the lack of snow or the economy. Both also reported people booking shorter stays.
ResortQuest is offering a fifth night free if clients book four nights to entice longer reservations. John Duvivier with Park City Lodging Inc. has heard people who attend Sundance every year are considering skipping it this year.
Jan Raio with Stein Eriksen Lodge said her company had to lay-off four mid-level managers recently in an effort to run leaner.
Tom Cook, marketing director for Deer Valley Lodging, said economic scares in October caused a "grinding halt" in reservations. Call volume and on-line bookings have improved dramatically, but the numbers are still "climbing out of a big hole."
All this bad news aside, Teri Whitney with Snow Flower Property Management and an officer in the Park City Area Lodging Association believes the year will not be as bleak as some fear.
"I think we’re going to see an off year, but not a bad year," she said. "We’re coming off two extreme record-breaking years. We won’t meet those, but I think we’ll have an OK year."
One reason for that optimism is the bookings for late December and the festival’s opening weekend look good.
Raio said Stein Eriksen is 99 percent booked after Christmas and is completely booked for the Jan. 15 weekend.
Vicki Gaebe, marketing director for ResortQuest, said they’re almost full for Christmas week.
Rob Slettom, president of Identity Properties, said the week after Christmas is 95 percent full and the opening weekend for Sundance is at 85 percent.
More good news is that the films featured at Sundance were only recently announced. Many people associated with a submitted film were waiting to be accepted before booking.
Advanced ticket sales for the festival also appear to be strong, said Bill Malone, executive director of the Park City Chamber/Bureau. That is also a good sign.
Overall, however, Kathleen McKenna of Intermountain Lodging and Resort Realty, said her numbers are down about 20 to 25 percent. Duvivier said he thinks there are still many tourists waiting to see what Park City slopes look like before making reservations. Raio said Sundance parties and events appear to be scaled back in the planning stages.
Malone also pointed out that with Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Thursdays, it may be a shorter "holiday season." Usually businesses can count on a strong 10 to 11 days of visitation during the season. Malone has heard that the way the calendar works this year that may be cut to eight days.
The Chamber/Bureau website: http://www.parkcityinfo.com , includes a feature to help visitors find businesses with vacancies. While some hotels and rental properties experience 100 percent occupancy during the week after Christmas, the website shows over a dozen hotels with vacancies that week.
That’s normal though, Malone said. Full occupancy is rare, especially considering how many options there are for sleeping in Park City.
While there’s little hope for relief this winter from the slowing economy, many lodging experts say good snowfall can still smooth out some of their troubles.
"We’re entering a time when snow will trump everything else," Cook said.
Raio said a good snowfall can create a rush. Duvivier pointed out that many people subscribe to flash email services that notify them of snow in Utah. His phone always rings off the hook when the flakes fall, he said.
Once a good storm hits, McKenna said it can take as little as four days to see higher bookings.
Slettom said he’s seeing a pattern of "peaks and valleys" in his bookings. Holiday and festival periods look good, but the weeks in between are empty. More snow can level that out and set a better pace for the season.
McKenna said she’s still hopeful since the season can last until as late as mid-March. That’s plenty of time to recover a bit if the weather cooperates.
"We could get last minute reservations and then be pleasantly surprised and understaffed," she said.
And if the airlines have low prices, Park City will be in good shape, she said.
Cook said for the first time in many years, Deer Valley Lodging’s older units are booking up before the newer ones. That tells him skiers are still wanting to come, they’re just looking for good deals.
"The positive side is it’s never been a better time for travelers to come," he said.
To stay competitive with Colorado and to entice visitors to stay longer and do more, the Chamber/Bureau website is posting "Hot Deals" from its members featuring lodging, food and recreational discounts or services bundling, he said.
Check out "Hot Deals" and vacancies at the Park City Chamber/Bureau website: http://www.parkcityinfo.com
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Starting Friday, fires and charcoal grilling will only be allowed in improved fire pits or grills on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.