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A season unlike any other


Colorado-based Mountain Research Travel Program (MTRiP) released its latest travel figures on Dec. 17 and not all of the news is bad.

The latest report is based on data compiled from 216 property management companies in 15 mountain resorts in the U.S. and Canada, as well as U.S. government figures like the Consumer Confidence Index and employment statistics.

Among other things, the report found that consumer confidence actually increased in November to 44.9, up from a record low of 38 in October. That’s still low, according to the index — “consumers remain extremely pessimistic and the possibility that economic growth will improve in the first half of 2009 remains highly unlikely.”

The report also looked at things like the price of gas, which is decreasing from record highs in the summer months. That has lowered the price of travel for consumers.

Mountain resorts collectively are reporting that advanced bookings for the winter season are down 19.5 per cent compared to last year, while November bookings for all future dates were down 25.1 per cent.

The report also looked at the shorter lead cycle for reservations, as people book at the last minute instead of months in advance. There are also indications that second-homeowners may increase their personal use of units in peak periods, which boosts resort business but doesn’t show up in reservation reports.

“At this point, this season is unlike any other in memory,” said Ralf Garrison, MTRiP founder and the author of the latest report. “The final results for this season will depend on several key factors including the economy, amount of snowfall, and the aggressiveness of promotional efforts and programs.”

The report also found that resorts are generally shifting their focus to regional “one tank” markets instead of destination visitors — the same strategy embraced by Tourism Whistler at the start of the season. Reduced prices and value incentives, like free nights or lift tickets, are also likely to be in effect this year during peak periods when deals are normally not available.

“Resorts and lodging properties need to remember that it ain’t over ’til it’s over,” said Garrison. “Businesses that want to weather these turbulent times need to remain up-to-date on changing economic variables and then flexible in finding ways to take care of their loyal guests.”