Summer occupancy will be higher than 2020, but not quite reaching pre-pandemic peaks

Last year’s occupancy rates in Steamboat Springs were abysmal, so when compared to last year, this summer’s outlook is generally trending positive — but it’s not quite a return to pre-pandemic highs.

“It’s looking spectacular compared to a year ago; and it’s looking hopeful, looking with a broader vision. Maybe even more than hopeful,” said Larry Mashaw, vice president of sales and marketing at Resort Group.

Comparing this year to 2020 will show a huge uptick in occupancy, though Mashaw cautioned it’s not a complete picture. Instead, a comparison to pre-pandemic levels is more accurate.

“If you look against two years ago, we’re nowhere close to where we finished,” he said.

Occupancy was recorded at about 48% for June 10 and 11, but in previous years, that number has been as high as 70%. For June 17 and 18, occupancy was less than 50% but has been upwards of 80% in previous years. This weekend, June 24 and 25, is expected to see above 60% occupancy, which is close to 2019’s rate.

Occupancy rates were detailed for Steamboat over 60 days, from May 30 to July 31, in a recent report created by DestiMetrics. Those rates are determined by data submitted by 13 properties from across the city as of May 31 with what’s currently on the books for reservations. Data comes from a mix of local hotels, motels and vacation rentals. The report also shows how the future occupancy rate compares to last year’s predicted and actual levels.

Fourth of July weekend, the strongest period in 2020 for total occupancy, reached only about 75% last year but has typically reached 90% or higher in recent years. Projections using data from Jan. 1 to May 31, 2020, initially predicted a much lower rate for that time, at about 30%, but that number was bolstered by last-minute bookings.

This year, the Independence Day weekend is forecast to reach about 45%, which is expected to be higher in actuality. For July 8 and 9, there is projected to be about 60% occupancy while Steamboat often hits 80%.

“We’ve got a lot of room to grow to get that degree of normality,” Mashaw said. “The return of events, including the Fourth of July parade, is likely to add some strength to bookings from this point forward.”

Scott Marr, owner of Holiday Inn Steamboat, says June is likely to be close to a record month for his business when considering reservations. August and September are looking strong, as well.

“We’ll be up 100% over last June,” Marr said.

Even though business will be better this month, it’s compared with a year marked by shutdowns and travel restrictions. Still, Marr remains optimistic.

“I hope we can get through this summer and still like tourists,” Marr said.

There are certain indicators Mashaw said are interesting in the data, one being weekend spikes in occupancy that are less pronounced now than in late summer. That shows the average stay’s length is a bit longer, making occupancy stronger midweek. Part of the reason, he said, is owners of vacation rental properties occupying their units rather than renting them out, because they weren’t able to use them as much during the pandemic.

“We’ll have to see if those length of stays kind of continue to go on,” Mashaw said. “We expect that to be pretty strong.”

High occupancy rates last September and October were a surprise — better than an average year, according to Mashaw. However, that’s not expected to occur this year, he said. But it’s still uncertain as much of the business last fall happened relatively close to arrival date, and that data wouldn’t be available until late summer.

“I think we’re still emerging,” Mashaw said. “There’s clearly a lot of demand. It’s just being expressed more a little bit later in the summer.”

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