The appeal of being able to socially distance from others while skiing and doing other outdoor activities is giving hoteliers at ski resorts reasons to feel optimistic about the winter.
Hoteliers with ski resort properties hope the winter season will bring the same kind of stronger-than-expected leisure demand experienced over the summer.
GMs at ski resort hotels that remained open over the summer said they were pleasantly surprised by that relatively strong demand, but concerns linger over whether it will be replicated this winter.
Still, the fact that skiing is a somewhat isolated outdoor activity is helping keep business on the books for many popular skiing destinations.
“Skiing is just about the most socially distanced sport you can do,” said Greg Durrer, GM of the W Aspen & the Sky Residences at W Aspen. “You already have a face mask covering your mouth most likely, you’re outside and you’re moving fast.”
The Snow King Resort, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, relies heavily on out-of-state guests, which means state travel restrictions will be a big factor driving demand, GM Gregg Fracassa said.
He said he expects the same guest mix this winter as over the summer. That includes younger families, couples and small friend groups at first, and then as business slowed going into fall, guests ranging in age from 50s to 70s. Demand has been drive by drive-to and short-haul air travel, he said.
“Some markets in larger areas of the United States use us as a destination, so we’re expecting that to continue into the wintertime,” he said. “That’s certainly what we saw throughout the summertime.”
During a normal winter, the Little Nell in Aspen is mostly sold out, with occupancy in the high-90% range during the week, GM Jonathan Fillman said. Many repeat guests, which make up about 70% of the mix, booked six months to a year out and knew exactly which room they wanted.
“In the COVID environment, it’s a little bit different,” he said.
The hotel temporarily closed after the onset of the pandemic, but reopened in June and grew occupancy every month after, he said. While down compared to last year, the property was able to achieve 65% to 70% occupancy.
The booking window has significantly shortened, Durrer said. Under normal circumstances, guests booked between four to 12 weeks in advance. Now that has shortened to one to three weeks.
“It’s by and large driven by certainty,” he said. “When they go ahead and make a commitment to travel, they want to understand what’s going on in the market, what is the travel picture looking like. So they’re holding off from those advance bookings and really making decisions much closer in.”
Guests at the Snow King Resort have booked as far out as a year ahead in the past, but now the typical booking window is within 30 days, Fracassa said.
After an initial shock, occupancy at the hotel began to grow starting in June, he said. The same thing is happening for the winter, and the resort is completely booked for the holidays.
Booking pace, excluding the holidays, still is down compared to normal years, but there is hope it will follow the pattern established over the summer.
“We would expect the same thing to continue on through our winter season, especially with the (expected) tremendous snowfall,” he said.
A national resurgence in COVID-19 cases is changing booking patterns again, Fillman said. People are now booking only one to two weeks out. The hotel reservations team is being flexible and lifting length of stay restrictions. Instead of requiring a weeklong stay over the Christmas holiday, guests have the option to book for three days.
“We don’t want to do anything to stop people,” he said. “If a guest is willing to travel right now, we don’t want anyone to stop.”
Despite the draw of skiing and other outdoor activities, the colder weather will mean guests spending more time in hotels and resorts, which requires properties to adjust services and amenities, beyond health and safety protocols.
The Snow King Resort is hosting movie nights in its ballroom by squaring off seating areas with beanbags and other furniture 9 feet apart, Fracassa said.
“It’s about figuring out how to expand your outlets and other services you have within the footprint of the building,” he said.
In guestrooms, some of the high-touch pieces have been removed in favor of a high-tech approach, Durrer said. Adjustments also include accommodating a higher demand for in-room dining, with menus available upon request, and the addition of geodesic domes to the second-floor terrace and the rooftop wetdeck, he said.
“These private spaces will be able to accommodate larger households or a related group of individuals that can meet together and dine together according to protocols and still have a fantastic dining experience,” he said.
Safety restrictions have reduced indoor dining to 25% capacity, requiring some creativity in how guests are seated, Fillman said. Dining was expanded into the living room by adding more seats, and tents also opened dining options on the patios.
The property also has a new outlet called Nourish that offers only to-go food, a new F&B concept at the bar, and is working on a food-delivery service. To-go orders over the Thanksgiving holiday totaled about $15,000 in revenue for the property, he said.
“We can still serve our guests great food and beverage experiences,” he said. “Yes, it’s slightly different than what we have had in the past, but I think everybody is being more flexible to the guest experience.”
Copyright 2020 CoStar Realty Information, Inc. All rights reserved. From https://www.hotelnewsnow.com. By Bryan Wroten.