Expanding non-peak offerings is key to mountain town growth
forward thinking. That was a primary theme discussed by ski- and mountain-town industry insiders who gathered for The Assembly — part of the annual Snowsports Industries of America Snow Show in Denver, Colorado, last week.
Hosted by Denver-based DestiMetrics — a ski-industry consulting firm that tracks lodging and ski-industry trends — The Assembly addressed some of the larger concerns regarding growing year-round ski and mountain-town economies.
According to DestiMetrics director Ralf Garrison, one of the biggest points of emphasis moving forward in that regard is to grow occupancy during non-peak times.
“We have to turn our attention (as an industry) to the valleys,” Garrison said in an interview with the Tribune this week.
According to DestiMetrics, since the Great Recession mountain resorts across the country have consistently been able to rebound and fill available lodging during peak weekends and holidays both in summer and winter. But that’s a stark contrast to non-peak times, or valleys.
Garrison said that based on their data assessing seasons as a whole, mountain towns show an average of 48 percent winter occupancy rate and a 43 percent rate for the summer.
Those numbers leave a lot of room for improvement. By contrast, the national hotel occupancy rate is 64 percent.
The numbers are especially critical in terms of growing further lodging facilities or renovating existing ones. Garrison said real-estate developers won’t consider a new project in a region if existing lodging occupancy is below 60 percent. So raising non-peak occupancy is a must.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR TAHOE
While specific numbers for the Tahoe region were not readily available, Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority director Carol Chaplin indicated that Tahoe had similar room for growth. One of the Tahoe region’s points of emphasis, according to Chaplin, needs to be mid-week visitation.
“We have a strong (regional) drive market that helps fill weekend rooms. But in order to fill weekday rooms, we need to attract the destination visitor — domestic and international — who will stay longer and spend additional dollars,” she said.
Tourism industry consultant and Tahoe-Based SMG Consulting president Carl Ribaudo echoed the sentiment.
“We do very well on weekends,” he said. “I think the mid-week has always been an opportunity.”
Ribaudo attended and was among panelists at last week’s SIA Snow Show.
Expanding the focus on destination visitors could provide a substantial boost to the economy, according to Garrison.
“The destination guest always makes the biggest economic impact,” he said. “The local and regional visitor doesn’t have as much economic consequence.”
While destination visitation has improved, Tahoe historically hosts substantially more regional visitation.
Continued expansion of airline offerings at the Reno-Tahoe International would be a step in the right direction, Ribaudo and Chaplin said.
While other mountain towns have gone to great lengths to grow summer tourism, Tahoe has always had an advantage in that regard. Unlike the Breckenridges and Vails of the world, Tahoe started as more of a summer destination.
“We’re a bit of an anomaly,” Ribaudo said. “Summer is our big season and winter is a little bit smaller.”
One of the keys for Tahoe and all mountain destinations is extending into shoulder seasons and down times, Garrison explained. That’s where the largest growth potential remains.
Figuring out how to attract those populations during non-peak times is the big trick.
Garrison suggests “destination magnets” or events to draw the visitors — but not just any event.
“There’s a fundamental disconnect in events that we’re starting to figure out,” he said. “The events that are successful are ones that grow out of the heart and soul of the locals.”
In other words, nationally sponsored events like mud runs or adventure races — which saw a boom in recent years — may not be the answer. But an event that locals are enthusiastic about, like the mountain biking festival in Meyers, can be.
“The local vibe is a big opportunity for tourism,” Ribaudo said.
Garrison added that at the end of the day visitors “really just want to be a local for a week.”