It appears that the drop in occupancy at mountain resorts throughout North America may have reached bottom in 2009, with a slight upswing reported by the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP) for March of 2010.
Results compiled as of March 31 surpassed the 2009 accommodation numbers by a narrow 1.3 per cent, although the average day skier rate was down around five per cent.
"The March performance is strong on its own and as the third month in a row with an increase in occupancy these figures indicate that a positive trend has now been established," said Ralf Garrison, who compiled the report.
"It is now virtually certain the winter season occupancies will exceed those of '08-09 but our enthusiasm remains cautious since occupancy rates remain fragile and overall revenues continue to lag behind those of last year."
The revenue issue is related to the lower rates charged by hotel and tour operators in mountain resorts, although there are promising signs there as well. The Consumer Confidence Index in the U.S. rose 13.1 per cent in March to reach 52.5 points for the first time in more than two years since the onset of the economic crisis.
The Travel Price Index tracks travel-related costs such as gasoline, airline fuel and lodging rates. The TPI increased 0.6 per cent in February for the second straight month and the sixth time over the past 12 months, outpacing inflation - which may indicate an increased tolerance among travellers for slightly higher costs.
Early reservations for April were up 4.6 per cent compared to April 2009, while actual lodging rates are up 4.2 per cent, suggesting that the trend of last minute bookings is continuing into 2010. However, advance bookings made in March 2010 for March through August were up 20.5 per cent.
"Now that we are seeing the momentum shifting slowly to the more positive side of the spectrum - in the ski industry, the travel industry and the broader economy - as an industry we can be optimistic about carrying this strength into the summer season," said Garrison. "And of course we are already looking ahead to the 2010-11 ski season with cautious optimism."
MTRiP reports are based on samples from 2010 property management companies in 15 mountain resort destinations representing 22,000 rooms in Colorado, Utah, California and B.C., as well as ski resorts.