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Trends Ample Fresh Snow and Strong Rates Deliver a Very Happy Holiday to Mountain Lodging in 18 Resort Destinations Across Western US

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photo of the author Katie Barnes

 Jan 14, 2022

Some early season nail-biting and cloud-watching was rewarded with ample snowfall beginning in mid-December across the western US to clinch a winning holiday season—whether compared to the pandemic-addled season last year or to pre-pandemic, record-breaking holiday seasons. As of Dec. 31, actual occupancy for the month of December was up 37.1 percent compared to last year while the Average Daily Rate (ADR) was up 40.3 percent to deliver a very merry 92.3 percent increase in aggregated revenues compared to last December. Further confirmation of the successful holiday season was a comparison to two Decembers ago before the pandemic hit. In contrast to that ‘normal’ December, actual occupancy was up 11.7 percent for the month while the ADR was up 25.3 percent to reel in a whopping 40 percent increase in revenues for December 2021 compared to December 2019.

These impressive results are aggregated from 290 western lodging properties across eight western states and was compiled by DestiMetrics,* the Business Intelligence division of Inntopia.

December was a ‘wow’ and the remainder of ski season is following the same track

As expected, the continued demand for winter mountain recreation kept growing, and as of Dec. 31, the six-month winter season measured from November through April continues to build on the solid foundation of bookings made during the autumn months. Compared to caution exhibited by prospective visitors last year at this time, occupancy for the full season including actual results from November and December and on-the books for January through April,  is up 66.7 percent in a year-over-year comparison. Gains are being reported in all six months with triple-digit percentage gains in February, March, an April. And in a year-over-year comparison, ADR is up a solid 33 percent for the season and when coupled with the dramatic uptick in occupancy, is currently showing an exceptional 121.6 percent increase in revenues for the full winter season.

For a better sense of how this year is shaping up compared to BC (Before COVID), the DestiMetrics data also draws comparisons to two years ago. As of Dec. 31, winter occupancy is up a healthy 9.6 percent compared to two years ago at this time, while the ADR for the full winter is up 25.8 percent.  Growth in both occupancy and daily rates  is delivering a 38.1 percent increase in revenues compared to Dec. 31, 2019.

“Abundant and much-needed snowfall began arriving mid-month across much of the western US and when coupled with pent-up demand and extended school breaks this year, we had the proverbial ‘perfect storm’ to drive all-time aggregated revenue records for December among our participating properties—despite some softening of short-term arrivals due to the rapid surge of Omicron cases,” reported Tom Foley, senior vice president for Business Process and Analytics for Inntopia. “And though employee staffing issues have been garnering negative attention and driving some pushback from consumers, and rising inflation continues to be of concern, visitors appear unaffected by these issues and are continuing to flock to mountain resort communities.”

Economic indicators

Once again, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) reversed the previous month’s pattern and during December increased a sharp 5.4 percent to close the month for another all-time monthly high of 36,338.3 points. The Index wraps up the 2021 calendar year with an impressive 19.5 percent gain over one year ago with gains in eight of the 12 months. Despite the upward trajectory, financial markets remained erratic as investors struggled to reconcile positive economic expectations with real and worrisome issues ranging from workforce challenges, rising inflation, and consumer strength. Interest rate hikes announced by the Federal Reserve and likely to begin in March will potentially add to the volatility.

The Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) rose 3.5 percent from November to close the year at 115.8 points–33 percent higher than it was one year ago at this time and with increases in nine of the past 12 months. Interestingly, consumers’ concerns about both COVID-19 and inflation declined in December despite an increase in both. That acceptance of higher prices and potentially higher risk of COVID-19 exposure helped keep consumer confidence relatively high. “That strong and resilient consumer confidence has been the key to supporting dramatically higher room rates in mountain communities in both 2021 and looking forward to early 2022,” noted Foley.

During December, the national Unemployment Rate dropped from 4.2 to 3.9 percent, declining for the fifth consecutive month and bringing it very close to the pre-pandemic level of 3.5 percent back in February 2020. Although 199,000 new positions were added during the month, it was well below the anticipated 475,000 jobs expected and two million workers remain off the payroll. Notably, the Leisure and Hospitality sector has added 2.6 million jobs during 2021 but still has approximately 1.2 million fewer positions than before the pandemic.

“Almost 6.4 million jobs have been added to the US economy this year and national unemployment has dropped 2.8 percent since the beginning of the year,” offered Foley. “But serious challenges in the job market remain a threat to the overall economy. More specifically, continued improvement in jobs and hiring for the Leisure and Hospitality industry during 2022 is needed to help avoid the consequences of declining service levels—whether real or perceived,” he cautioned.

Keeping an eye on

-Daily rates continue to soar and while economic forces such as inflation are playing a role is rising rates, there is also discussion both that localized inflation may be driving the rates–and that higher rates are contributing to rising inflation.

-Snowfall anxiety has eased considerably as a series of storm systems moved across much of the Pacific Northwest and western mountain regions through the last two weeks of December and delivered ample fresh snow—in some cases, more than could be initially handled. However, the Northeast region has struggled with warmer temperatures and less than normal snowfall.

-Omicron continued surging in December and just like the previous two COVID-19 surges, the data clearly reveals a consistent pattern of softer booking volume as cases rise and peak, then increased booking volume as cases decline.

“Despite a Grinch-like Omicron surge that slowed short-lead bookings and resort’s challenges to manage limited early season snow along with securing adequate holiday staffing appeared to be of little or no bottom-line consequence for western mountain destinations this December as continued pent-up demand drove high occupancy and all-time, record-high room rates,” Foley observed. “A robust foundation for bookings through the remainder of the season has positioned the industry for an excellent year but inconsistent snowfall, the impact of promised interest rate hikes on consumer spending, and any new twists from COVID-19 could all play a role in the months ahead,” he concluded.

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*DestiMetrics, part of the Business Intelligence platform for Stowe-based Inntopia, tracks lodging performance in resort destinations. They compile forward-looking reservation data each month and provide individualized and aggregated results to subscribers at participating resorts. Data for western resorts is derived from a sample of approximately 290 property management companies in 18 mountain destination communities, representing approximately 30,000 rooms across Colorado, Utah, California, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho and may not reflect the entire mountain destination travel industry. Results may vary significantly among/between resorts and participating properties.

 

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