July numbers improve in report on Western mountain resorts

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Despite a slow start to the summer, Western mountain resorts are looking forward to one of the best seasons they have seen in a few years.

According to the latest numbers from the Mountain Travel Research Program, July occupancy is up 9.9% over last summer and average daily rate is up 5%. In June, occupancy was down 2.5%.

Additionally, reservations for the six-month period from July through December are up 7.5% compared with the same period last year, while ADR is up 2.5%.

"After two years of almost constant downward pressure, this show of strength in both occupancy and rate is an encouraging sign for mountain destinations and the best performance we've seen in several years," said Ralf Garrison, author of the monthly report that tracks lodging at mountain resorts in the West.

"Right now, the autumn months look promising but less consistent, and there is a lot of variation in the strength of reservations between Western resort destinations during the fall months," he added.

Although late or last-minute booking trends persist, Mountain Travel said that overall pacing of reservations appears to be picking up, with reservations taken in June for arrival between June and November increasing 7.4% over 2009.

On the East Coast, Chuck Baraw, general manager of Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa in Stowe, Vt., said he was surprised by the July jump in lodging numbers Mountain Travel reported for Western resorts.

"Western ski areas do very little business in the summer compared to winter, so it's not really a meaningful statistic," he said.

"On the East Coast, rates are still down. ... We are reasonably busy, but there is certainly not a recovery. It certainly has bottomed out but, no, I would not say it is better than last summer."

Garrison said the increases shown in the West reflect a comparison with one of the worst periods in industry history.

"It's a low bar," he said.

He also noted that the data measure Western resorts in aggregate, meaning "when you pull out the magnifying glass you see that ... the market conditions are not being evenhanded. The aggregate number is being based on a combination of winners and losers."

The resorts reporting the best performance this summer, he said, are those near urban centers that are able to lure the "staycations" or, as Garrison put it, "close-cations" with rates that are substantially below what the properties get during winter months.

This report appeared in the July 26 issue of Travel Weekly.

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