Economic update: ‘Year of the dig-out’ |

Economic update: ‘Year of the dig-out’

Matt Welch

There may still be snow on the ground, but summer is around the corner – and local resorts and trip planning agencies think their reservations might be turning a corner too.

Data from the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP) for the Tahoe region indicates an 18 percent increase in bookings for July and a 7 percent in August increase over last year’s bookings for those months at this time, said Andy Chapman, tourism director for the North Tahoe Resort Association. MTRiP tracks mountain travel industry statistics in 15 different markets and provides location-specific data to individuals like Chapman.

“We’re showing some good improvement. We certainly hope that would sustain,” Chapman said.

Chris Minnes, the president of the South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association and general manager of the 968 Park Hotel, said his hotel’s summer numbers look to be up, but 50 to 60 percent of the bookings he’s receiving are coming only three to four days before the stay.

“Summer is strong, it’s looking strong,” Minnes said.

For the broader hotel community, Minnes said those who are operating just as they did years ago aren’t doing as well as operators with more creative packages and offers for customers.

“The people who are doing that, they’re doing well,” Minnes said.

The Village at Squaw Valley is seeing a 5 percent increase over last year at this time, with wedding-related reservations “definitely leading the charge,” general manager Christy Beck said.

“We’re ahead of pace from last year,” she said. “(And) we haven’t really begun marketing for summer.”

MontBleu Casino, Resort and Spa in Stateline, Nev. is seeing flat booking numbers year-over-year for summer 2010, marketing director Mike Donovan said. But Donovan said last summer was successful for the resort and casino, so he’s pleased to see the steady numbers continue.

“We should be looking good,” he said.

Don Cauley, general manager of Vacation Station in Incline Village, said he’s seeing a 10 percent increase over this time last year in summer bookings. That number isn’t as high as he saw in pre-recession 2008 and before, he said, but it could be a sign that improvements are coming this year.

“That’s not recovery, but it is a hopeful sign and it seems we might have turned a corner,” Cauley said.

In its first summer, the Ritz Carlton Highlands at Lake Tahoe hopes to bring a new kind of guest to Tahoe, said director of public relations Steven Holt – the luxury guest.

“We’ve seen a lot of interest with the Ritz Carlton being new,” Holt said.

Since snow is still falling in the Basin, Holt said many summer visitors haven’t made their plans yet, but he expects the Ritz to be successful this summer.

“We’re where we intended to be,” he said.

Cauley said those calling don’t seem quite as concerned with finding bargain prices for trips, an indication for him that money is more easy to come by and things might be looking up.

“There’s less of a sense that they need a great bargain,” he said.

The resorts’ booking numbers mirror the national trends, said MTRiP director Ralf Garrison. Leisure travel is performing better than business travel, Garrison said, so ski resorts aren’t doing as badly as some other industries.

“Occupancy is remaining relatively flat, growing ever so slightly, usually at the expense of rate,” Garrison said. “We expect to see the summer season continue in a slow upward trend.”

Chapman said North Tahoe resorts are seeing increases in revenue-per-room as well, a figure that improved 17 percent for July bookings and 9 percent for August bookings as of Feb. 28., a positive sign.

“There’s definitely some positive numbers there,” he said.

Nationally, Garrison said that demand for lodging in mountain areas hasn’t changed since last year, meaning resorts are fighting over a relatively fixed number of guests. He said those with brand names and customer loyalty would have more success than lesser-known or newer resorts.

“They’re going to win at the expense of others,” he said.

Garrison said Tahoe’s advantage in this economy is that it is close to the Bay Area population center, so visitors can drive to Tahoe easily and more cheaply. Either way, though, he said it’s going to be a lengthy recovery from the recession.

“The increases are going to be barely discernable month-to-month,” Garrison said. “This is going to be a several-year dig-out.”

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