KEYSTONE â Though the snow was good this season, the top executive at Vail Resorts Inc. had another way to describe the season when it comes to business: “awful.”
Skier visits, overnight lodging occupancy and room rates have slid this year, prompting the industry to turn its thoughts to the future, seeking ways to regroup and win back travelers when the economy improves.
“I’m optimistic the season is almost over,” Vail chief executive Rob Katz told ski-industry leaders Wednesday. “It’s a joke on one level, but there is a truth to it.”
He said the industry must reorganize, innovate and give guests more value.
“We are pointed in the right direction, but we can’t rely on the success we had over the last five years,” he said.
More than 900 ski-industry leaders are gathered in Keystone this week for the 2009 Mountain Travel Symposium.
Skier visits nationally are expected to be down for the 2008-09 season. Early estimates by Mountain Travel Research Program director Ralf Garrison are for between 54 million and 57 million skier visits, at least a 5 percent drop from the 2007-08 season record of 60.5 million.
Statewide estimates aren’t yet available.
Garrison, Katz and Mike Shannon, founder of KSL Capital Partners, which owns the Vail Mountain Lodge and other resort properties, addressed a crowded room to discuss the state of destination mountain travel for next season.
“It’s important for us not to be so narcissistic and think this is all about us,” Katz told the attendees from ski resorts around the world. “This is one of those moments when we are caught up in a much bigger thing.”
The latest report released by Garrison’s MTRP showed the national average daily lodging rate was down 8.6 percent in February compared with the same period last year. And the total occupancy for the 2008-09 season is expected to be down 16.3 percent.
All things considered, drops of 5-10% are not catastrophic. Not good, but given how much unemployment has shot up, what has happened to home values, and the disaster of a stock market (that surprisingly has rebounded some), skiing is fairing better than I thought.
I was at Alta and heard a couple employees throwing the figure 10-12% around which sounds about right.