INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The big snow storms of the past several days are a relief to water managers in northern Nevada and California along with owners of vacation rental properties at Lake Tahoe. After suffering through a relatively dismal Christmas and New Year's vacation rental period when there was only man-made snow to ski on, the storms in late January and early February helped to bring visitors for the critical Presidents' Day holiday. However, it wasn't enough snow to cover all the advanced and expert runs, thereby crowding everyone onto the remaining open terrain.
While people from around the world might view Lake Tahoe as a year-round vacation paradise (and in some respects it really is), the reality for people who own a short term rental property is that you have approximately 12 weeks each year that you can count on. The rest of the year, you hope that your various marketing efforts help to bring in enough additional visitors to add significant revenue to your coffers.
It is extremely unusual to have absolutely no natural snow before the end of the New Year's holiday. But that rare occurrence caused many people to cancel or shorten their bookings during the important Christmas to New Year's time frame. There are generally four weeks each year when vacation rentals command a super-premium; the two-week period over the Christmas and New Year's holiday, Presidents' Day week and the Fourth of July week. Renters generally pay 25% to 35% above the normal summer or winter rate to enjoy a vacation property during these times of peak demand.
So, any loss of income during one of these four super-premium weeks is especially painful for anyone who owns a vacation rental property. There is no guarantee that a long-time visitor will return for the most expensive and crowded time of the year after experiencing a brown Christmas at Tahoe in 2011. California residents can just as easily pick a warm holiday destination in 2012 such as Hawaii, instead of hoping that Mother Nature provides snow for the Tahoe ski vacation they missed this past Christmas.
The bleak start to ski season also substantially reduced the number of spontaneous weekend trips that would normally be made by people living within a four hour drive of Lake Tahoe. Without a good snow pack in December, January and most of February to lure skiers to the slopes, many vacation rental properties remained vacant during the normally busy ski season. Even reducing your rate dramatically did not result in additional bookings for the most part. With nearly 2/3 of all visitors coming from Northern California, those folks had plenty of alternative recreational opportunities to enjoy closer to home.
Easter generally marks the psychological end of ski season for most out-of-town visitors to Lake Tahoe. The recent spate of snowstorms have finally provided enough cover that most advanced and expert ski runs (including much of the tree skiing) are now safe and enjoyable. If the weather stays seasonable and we do not get a rapid spring thaw, skiers will likely return during the next few weekends to the Lake Tahoe basin.
If you own a vacation rental property this is your last chance to earn some good revenue before the generally dormant period from mid-April to mid-June. Do everything that you can to promote your property while the ski resorts are in full swing. If you have a contract with a rental agent or property management firm, talk with them about some creative ways to fill those vacant days between now and when the lifts shut for the season. A significant percentage of vacation renters are repeat visitors from Northern California. Contact your existing client base by e-mail, US mail, or phone and do some good old-fashioned marketing work. It could well result in a few new bookings and help to recover some of the lost revenue from earlier in the season.
— Don Kanare is a Realtor at RE/MAX Premier Properties. Read his blog and weekly stats on his website at www.InsideIncline.com.