Tourism Column
By Gary C. Sherwin 
Vice President, Market Development Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority 

Palm Springs Desert Resorts; Our High Standards
Do Not Include Rain in January

February 4, 2005

It was the start of a new year. The beginning of high season. And it was supposed to be better than this.

2005 was the year that everything was going to turn around with the $1 billion local tourism industry finally getting real traction as it continues its slow upward recovery from 9/11. Optimism abounded.

But thanks to the winter storms that washed out weekend business along with many area roads and golf courses, business was decidedly sour during January.

With nearly 55 percent of Palm Springs Desert Resorts visitors coming from other parts of Southern California, guests tend to watch weather reports carefully especially on Thursday and Friday.

Sometimes this plays to our benefit, especially when June gloom settles in along the coast and those visitors are longing for a little sunshine and warmth. But when the desertís forecast is as bad as the coast, hotels see a rash of phone cancellations on Friday morning, leaving them with empty rooms at the last minute they canít fill.

You canít exactly blame the visitors. If we are selling fun and sun, we frankly havenít been able to deliver a whole lot of that lately.

Estimates are that valley wide business is off by as much as 10 to 15 percent due to the bad weather, which is especially painful since January is the kickoff to the busiest time of the year.

The first four months of the year are so important to valley cities that they collect 48 percent of their transient occupancy tax revenue during this period, when both rate and occupancy is usually at its highest.

To compound the problem, the weather played havoc with two events that usually receive national media attention: The Palm Springs International Film Festival and the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

On the day of the big celebrity studded gala for the film festival, the sun was nowhere to be found and flights were cancelled into Palm Springs International Airport for several days prior to the event due to heavy rains.

Although many celebrities such as Nicole Kidman and Samuel L. Jackson flew into town on private planes, I wasnít sure if they were going to make it given the dense cloud cover.

They did however, and the rain held off the night of the gala. Nonetheless, no one could gush about coming to enjoy a little sun in Palm Springs while picking up his or her award. In fact, Kidman and Jackson got back on planes immediately after the gala and left town, but that may have been due to busy schedules and not weather.

Jackson must have been too turned off because he came back to play in the Bob Hope tournament last week, but it too was also the victim of mixed weather with cloudy skies and a light mix of rain.

Thankfully, during the nationally televised tournament on Sunday, the sun came out and the desert photographed beautifully, which is good news since the event is one of the regionís significant marketing tools in positioning the desert as a winter haven to snow bound East Coast types.

Certainly the rain has an adverse affect on leisure visitors, but the convention business, which isnít as weather sensitive, is reported to be relatively strong this year for the east valley cities. In Palm Springs, once the new Convention Center opens this September, that cityís fall season will be robust, which will help offset a slow first quarter.

Still, some resorts reported that many recent delegates had trouble arriving at the airport due to the weather; with others canceling altogether, costing the region group room nights.

The one bright spot in all of this was that the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway has been seeing banner business, as people venture up the mountain to actually seek out cold and snow.

New Yearís Day was one of the tramís biggest days in its history with 3,855 passengers taking advantage of record snowfalls, up about 1,300 people during similar periods.

The other positive is the anticipation of one of the best wildflower seasons on record, with many desert communities already showing signs of color. Outdoor tour companies are already reporting strong interest from visitors.

Sure, maybe we needed a little rain and after all it is winter. And compared to some of the tortuous weather across America, ours isnít that bad.

But then again, we are the Palm Springs Desert Resorts. Weíre supposed to have a higher standard this time of year.

Gary C. Sherwin
Vice President, Market Development Palm Springs
Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority 
70-100 Highway 111
Rancho Mirage, CA 92270
Telephone: (760) 770-9000
Toll Free: (800) 967-3767
Also See: It Isnít Easy Being a Destination Advertiser These Days / Tourism Column / Gary C. Sherwin / January 2005

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