|By Andrew Kirk, Park Record, Park City,
UtahMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 9, 2009--Shorter booking windows have been the trend for over a year now, making it difficult for businesses in the lodging industry to predict vacancy rates even a few weeks in advance.
this time of year, the week after Christmas should be completely sold out and the minimum stay required for a reservation is seven days.
But because travelers are booking later and wanting shorter stays, most hotels still have vacancies. There's optimism the town will fill up, but the slower pace of reservations is making people nervous.
John Duvivier, director of sales and marketing for Park City Lodging, said his company has had to lower the minimum number of nights to five because so many guests were saying they wanted to come, but for less time.
"We've had to bend," he said. "Eventually we said, 'Yeah, we'll take those too.'"
Erin Grady, spokesperson for Deer Valley Resort Lodging and Reservations, said they have no past experience to reference, but do sense that bookings are a bit slow.
Still, reservations for ski school "are looking really packed" and are "close to sold out," she said. Since most of those people are destination skiers, it stands to reason they'll book their lodging soon, but may be looking for the best deals.
Kevin Ellis, regional sales manager for ResortCom International, said the Park Plaza is close to sold out, but two other properties are only at 30 percent for that week.
"We're definitely nervous, for sure," he said.
Right now, predictions place this
winter slightly behind last. Still, snow has been slow in coming and a good storm could change everything, he said.
Until then, his office is being proactive and is considering packaging lodging with some other services in town to create more value and drive people to the lodges.
"We're seeing rate slashes coming through for Christmas as we speak, but when you slash rates it's hard to bring them back up it's better to look at adding value," he said.
Denise Perkins, marketing director for Hotel Park City, said she's seen more people booking the week before Christmas.
"We find that highly unusual," she said.
Typically, families want to spend Christmas at home, and once the presents are unwrapped and the turkey eaten, they hop on a plane to go skiing through New Year's Day.
Her only guess is that guests are taking advantage of the shorter minimum stays required the week before Christmas. They may be planning to celebrate early in order to visit Park City for two or three days instead of a week.
Jason Linder, director of sales and marketing for All Seasons Resort Lodging, said larger properties have sold out, but there are still vacancies for hotel rooms and studios. The booking windows are shorter than ever, he said.
"The trend overall makes you a little nervous because you have to be patient and try not to overreact," he said. "There's less of an opportunity to adjust."
He agreed snow conditions are making things harder, causing the first part of December to be much softer than last year. Overall, they're predicting this winter to be much the same as last.
Cindy Galli, director of sales and marketing for Best Western Landmark Inn said bookings for December were great until the snow was supposed to fall and didn't. She said the hotel will be full for Christmas week, but reservations have slowed because of the lack of snow.
Linder also agreed that visitors are looking for greater values and he's had to comply to stay competitive.
The positive news is that he's predicting a better March than in 2008.
Several others echoed that as well.
"February and March are running at record levels," Duvivier said. "We have remarkable bookings for those months."
He had two theories on why: first, later in the winter is a cheaper time to come. Second, people are weary of 2009 and are more optimistic about next year. Coming in 2010 feels better, he said.
"Moving out of '09 is going to be a good direction as far as how '09 has been perceived," Perkins said. "It was a challenge for people, and they're ready to move on."
Galli said the weeks of the Sundance Film Festival as well as February and March are on track to exceed 2008 and appear to be moving out of the recession-inducing trends.
"Things are looking better, things are looking great," she said.
Finally, a trend Perkins noticed that may take a while to reverse is businesses booking on shorter timeframes. Corporate groups are the best clients for many Park City lodging businesses.
"We used to have 50 to 70 percent of our business on the books six months to a year out," she explained. "Now decisions are being made even only 45 days out."
Once the economy improves it will be easy to get individuals and families to start making reservations earlier, but companies move at a slower pace and are more conservative in their decision making.
"This trend may last a couple of years, or at least about 12 months," she said.
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