International travel may be cutting into Steamboat’s summer occupancy rates with lodging down this summer

The abundant crowds at the Fourth of July parade on Tuesday in downtown Steamboat Springs is just one part of the summer occupancy rate picture.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Looking at the Fourth of July crowds lining the parade route Tuesday in Steamboat Springs, residents might have imagined every lodging room in the city was full.

However, representatives from the Steamboat Springs Chamber say this summer’s lodging occupancy rates are lower than the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic when visitors from larger cities came to escape to the outdoors around Steamboat. Now that European travel has opened up again, some tourists who flocked to mountain towns the past two summers are traveling overseas.

“We have seen lower occupancy over the past 60 days than in the past two years,” said Laura Soard, marketing director for the Steamboat Chamber. “For example, occupancy over Father’s Day was about 13% down over last year (and) Memorial Day was down about 40%. But we are seeing occupancy closer to pre-pandemic numbers in 2019 if you consider both paid and unpaid stays.”

The chamber expects to see lower occupancy over the next few months as people have more travel options than in the past few years, especially with international travel surging recently, Soard said.

Soard added that trends show more travelers feel comfortable now visiting larger cities and that is impacting travel to mountain destinations.

Stacy Charlton, COO of Steamboat Lodging Co. and chair of the Steamboat Lodging Association, agreed that the dip in visitation represents people going other places post-pandemic.

“In general, the mountains saw a lot of increased traffic the past couple of years,” Charlton said. “People were going away from large population centers to visit the mountains. Maybe there was a level of safety they felt by doing this, and this year we are seeing it slow down.”

Some lodging managers theorize that large crowds at events such as the Fourth of July parade may partially be a phenomena of summer socialization and a post-pandemic atmosphere with more area residents and second homeowners coming out to socialize.

Ample attendees at the Fourth of July parade in downtown Steamboat Springs sat or stood in layers and snaked around the corner from Lincoln Avenue.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Plus, a recent study conducted by OnePoll revealed that 31% of average Americans are more social overall in the summer than they are in winter.

Summer statistics pulled by Soard from Key Data showed a peak of 44% in summer rental occupancy rates during 2021 in Steamboat. However, that figure was down to 32% from June 1 to July 1 this year.

Occupancy Rates

Key Data shows occupancy rates on average in Steamboat Springs across the summer from June 1 to Aug. 31 including both paid and unpaid/owner occupancy as follows:

2023 – 32% (June 1-July 1 only)

2022 – 40%

2021 – 44%

2020 – 36%

2019 – 41%

2018 – 41%

Current occupancy rates for the next 60 days show booking reservations at 31%, which is down from 34% in 2022 and 39% in 2021, Soard said.

“These percentages are a representation of the total lodging market,” Soard said. “We don’t have visibility to every lodging property in the area, and we know that residents also host family and friends over the summer. Though we don’t have visibility to those stays, they certainly impact the overall visitation in town.”

One factor Charlton noted is that more construction of homes in the past few years in Steamboat can translate to more vacation rentals and a decrease in the overall occupancy rate.

“Overall vacation rental visitor demand is down, but the amount of inventory appears to have increased. This could be causing occupancy dilution,” Charlton said.

According to Viktorija Hristovska, Retreatia’s director of customer experience, property rental companies in Steamboat did experience stronger occupancy rates in June due to being the lodging host for special events such as Triple Crown and Steamboat Marathon.

Another trend that Charlton and Soard noted is due to the spike in demand for hotel stays during the pandemic, prices for lodging rose in mountain resort communities.

“What we saw in the mountain markets was demand was way up, and we were able to push average daily rates up in 2021 and 2022,” Charlton said. “Rates haven’t completely capitulated back to pre-pandemic levels.”

Soard explained that the exact occupancy rates across the city are hard to pin down because some vacation rental owners manage their properties independently, and many visitors come to stay with friends and family or use a friend’s rental gratis. Occupancy rates also fluctuate from property to property based on size, type, pricing and management structures.

Lodging managers say the summer booking window is shorter because people may visit more spontaneously with a one- to two week-notice, sometimes based on weather. During the winter ski season, visitors often book multiple months in advance.

Soard said downtown Steamboat may feel busier this summer when lodging bookings are more spread across the city. During the winters, lodging stays are more focused near the ski area.

“We feel the visitation impacts differently during the summer because in the winter, visitors often stay up on the mountain and spend most of their time at the ski area,” Soard said. “In summer, there is more movement of visitors around downtown.”

Soard said the chamber advises members about occupancy trends 60 days in advance by producing a twice monthly lodging report.

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