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Utah's Decline in Hotel Occupancy Levels Off in October;
Mountain Resort Bookings Improve

By Mike Gorrell, The Salt Lake TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 24, 2009--Figures in two hotel industry reports provide further evidence that the downturn, while still a major drag on business, is easing up.

Hotel occupancy rates statewide and in Salt Lake County last month were about 4 percent below October 2008, a year-to-year drop off that was less than in previous months.

On another front, October bookings of rooms for trips this winter to Western mountain resorts jumped 25 percent over September -- although projected occupancy levels through the end of March remain 11 percent behind last winter.

"The October booking pace reflects a significant increase from 2008 and a modest return to more familiar lead times," said Ralf Garrison, Denver-based author of the monthly Mountain Travel Research Program report. "However, consumers continue to show price sensitivity. Gains were most notable in the more deeply discounted months of January and February."

October is the first month in which a year-to-year comparison matches figures that occurred after the financial collapse.

The previous 12 months all pitted post-meltdown numbers against figures that were recorded before Wall Street's implosion sent the economy on a steep downward slide. So the narrowing of the year-to-year margins -- which had ranged from 6 percent to 10 percent earlier in 2009 -- is not surprising.

Still, it was somewhat encouraging for hoteliers, particularly because October's average nightly room rate of $90.05 was just

$4 off the amount charged a year earlier. The year-to-date drop is close to $6 per night.

All in all, Utah's numbers coincided with Garrison's broader observation that "news from the economy is definitely a mixed bag. Many are describing it as better than feared, but worse than hoped for."

The 25 percent jump in resort bookings during October "is the most positive indicator we've seen in 12 months," he said. Garrison added, "It is premature to announce a positive tipping point. A definitive upward trend has yet to be established, and it is too soon to assess the role that short-lead bookings will have on the industry's hoped-for recovery."

Overall winter-booking figures support Garrison's reservations about overconfidence. Reservations, he reported, are down 20 percent in November, 9 percent in December, 6 percent in January, 13 percent in February, 12 percent in March and 23 percent in April.

Figures are based on samples from 230 property management companies in 17 mountain destination communities in Utah, Colorado, California and British Columbia.


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