Aspen early bookings rebound |

Aspen early bookings rebound

Ski company still expects tough time matching last year's numbers

Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

— Aspen and Snowmass are “closing the gap” in advance reservations for this season compared to last season, Aspen Skiing Co. Senior Vice President David Perry said Wednesday.

Last year, phones at hotels and lodges didn’t ring in October, November and into December after the financial crisis hit with its full force.

“The tap basically got turned off,” Perry said.

It was understandable given that there were questions about jobs and retirement funds, let alone the stability of the international economy. This year, “people aren’t as scared” after some stability has returned, Perry said.

As a result, the booking pattern is closer to two, three and four years ago. Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central bookings firm, has increased its number of reservations each of the past four weeks compared to the same weeks last year, Perry said.

That said, advance reservations still are behind where they were at this point last season. Perry said it will be “difficult” for the ski company to match last season’s skier days, which decreased 7.3 percent from the year before. The ski company logged 1.36 million skier days last season. The ski industry decreased 5.5 percent to 57.1 million.

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The ski company is forecasting that its business will be flat this winter, but Perry acknowledged at a public meeting this week that “we’ve got a lot of work to do” just to match last season.

Assuming the snowfall amount is average or better this winter – and there are no cataclysmic economic events – business at Aspen and Snowmass will “lag behind” for the first half of the ski season, Perry said. There is an opportunity for the second half to be better, he said.

One of the ski company’s main marketing initiatives for the winter is to lure families for spring break. A child between ages 7 and 12 can ski and stay for free during March when an adult books a four-day, five-night lift ticket and lodging package by Jan. 15.

March is the bread-and-butter month. Advance bookings for the month still are behind last year’s, but Perry is optimistic the package will help attract customers. One trend created by the recession is more last-minute bookings. Savvy travelers know they can find bargains by waiting.

That’s creating uncertainty for Perry and other executives in the travel and leisure business.

“Are we behind because of the late booking trend, or are we behind because of business not materializing?” Perry asked.

He’s encouraged that the pace of reservations picked up in the past month.

Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, said that typically about 50 percent of winter reservations in the two resorts are made by Thanksgiving. Only about 20 percent of reservations are made by now, so there is plenty of time to boost the numbers.

“That’s why it’s not impossible to close the gap,” he said.