| SierraSun.com

Nevada County Relief Fund awards survival grants to small businesses

 

When the State announced the regional stay-at-home order last month to slow the spread of COVID-19, the Nevada County Relief Fund launched its “Small Business Winter Survival Campaign” to help the most impacted businesses survive. With the generous support of local residents and community leaders, the Nevada County Relief Fund raised $287,500 in the last four weeks, which will be awarded today to 73 small businesses countywide.

“The County put up the $100,000 ‘challenge grant’ right before Christmas, and this amazing community of ours matched it with $112,000 in a matter of weeks,” said County Supervisor and Board Chair Dan Miller. “My wife and I ran a small business on Mill Street for years, so we know how hard it’s been for retailers, and how much these grants can help.”

Not only were the County funds matched by local donors, but the Town of Truckee allocated $75,000, and the City of Nevada City chipped in $1,000 to support these businesses and recognize their adherence to the necessary public health guidelines designed to protect their customers, staff and the larger community.

“This is a challenging time for everyone, so I’m very pleased that we could support twenty-two Truckee businesses — restaurants, bars, retailers, gyms, hair salons and barbers – who are the heart of our town,” said Truckee Mayor Anna Klovstad.

“We reached out to a lot of donors who were happy to help because they know, like I do, that we can’t afford to lose our vibrant, historic downtown merchants to this pandemic,” said Leo Granucci, Co-Chair of the Nevada County Relief Fund. “And together, our public-private partnership has raised and awarded $1,017,400 to date.”

The Relief Fund issued forty-two $5,000 micro-grants to businesses with employees, and thirty-one $2,500 micro-grants to sole proprietors without employees.

When informed of her award, Barbara Martinez, owner of The Tack Room in Penn Valley, said, “This will allow us to pay our rent and to go on until we can re-open again in the red tier. I’d like to thank everyone that’s donated to the Nevada County Relief Fund to help businesses. What a relief!”

News of the grant came just in time according to Kevin Salas, owner of Copy Center in Truckee. “The timing is really perfect in terms of helping businesses. This definitely helps us pay the rent and the utilities to stay open and keep on moving forward.”

The Sierra Business Council (SBC) administered the grant application process with oversight provided by the Relief Fund’s Community Advisory Council. SBC received nearly 180 applications representing over $700,000 in requests. After evaluating each application for eligibility, staff generated a randomly selected list that was reviewed by the Relief Fund’s Small Business Team to ensure geographic and business type diversity. While the applicants certified they were following state and local public health guidelines, County and municipal staff verified they were in good standing and had no records of complaints.

 

About the Nevada County Relief Fund

The Nevada County Relief Fund was created through a partnership between the County of Nevada, Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation, Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, the Sierra Business Council, Center for Nonprofit Leadership, and the Economic Resource Council.

The Fund was established in April 2020 with a $100,000 “challenge grant” from the Nevada County Board of Supervisors to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis by directing vital resources to our most vulnerable neighbors and support our small businesses.

With Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation serving as the Relief Fund’s fiscal sponsor, donations may be made safely and are tax deductible. Please consider making a gift today. For more information, please visit: www.nevcorelief.org/donate

Round Four Small Business Micro-grants were awarded to the following Truckee businesses: Alibi Ale Works, Truckee, $5,000; Aloha Massage, Truckee, $2,500; Coffee And, Truckee, $5,000; Copy Center, Truckee, $5,000; Little Truckee Ice Creamery, Truckee, $5,000; Loch Leven Lodge, Truckee, $5,000; Love and Lupines Floral Design, Truckee, $2,500; Mane Attraction, Truckee, $5,000; Nicola B. Hair Studio, Truckee, $2,500; Pastime Club, Truckee, $5,000; Reflections Hair Studio, Truckee, $2,500; Sierra Symmetry, Truckee, $5,000; Snowy Mountain Tattoo Co, Truckee, $5,000; Squeeze In, Truckee, $5,000; Summer Wood Skin Care, Truckee, $2,500; Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company, Truckee, $5,000; The Good Wolf Brewing Company, Truckee, $5,000; Tourist Club, Truckee, $5,000; Truckee Dance Factory, Truckee, $5,000; Truckee Massage & Wellness Center, Truckee, $2,500; Zoe Jane Salon, Truckee, $5,000; and Zuri Coffee, Truckee, $5,000.

Source: Nevada County Relief Fund

Consequences: Following COVID-19 rules has economic impact, hospitality workers say

The hospitality industry has suffered, despite traffic lining the streets of North Lake Tahoe.

For almost five weeks, the Greater Sacramento area — which includes Nevada and Placer counties — fell under a stay-at-home order. On Tuesday, the state lifted that order, returning the area to the purple tier.

Restaurants can again serve people outdoors, and other restrictions are loosened. But business remains tough for many.

Patty Baird, owner of the Cedar House Sport Hotel on Brockway Road, closed altogether on Dec. 24.

Baird called her business shutdown a “staycation” and anticipated reopening Jan. 2, pending the stamp of approval from the state’s public health officials.

A stay-at-home order, lifted this past Tuesday, has hit the hospitality industry.
Justin Scacco

As the state assessed data collected from county hospitals Friday, Jan. 1, Baird canceled 2021’s first weekend of reservations.

“We already lost December, which is the month that sets us up,” Baird said. “Then it looked like we were going to lose most of January.”

The state’s Department of Public Health did not confirm they would extend the order past its original end date — New Year’s Day — until after the weekend was over.

Following the order’s elongation on Jan. 4, Baird canceled all reservations for the remainder of month.

Baird’s decision proved premature as the state lifted the order for 13 counties in the Greater Sacramento area on Tuesday, Jan. 12. Now, Baird, who has owned the Cedar House Sport Hotel for 15 years, is grateful to return to her job — welcoming visitors.

Baird said navigating the hospitality industry in Tahoe during COVID-19 is challenging already, but exacerbated as resort operations appear largely uninterrupted by the pandemic.

“There’s an incentive to game the system because the ski resorts are open,” Baird said. “In Truckee, you’ll find that there is good compliance, but there are always those that slip through.”

Baird said she chose to close in part to avoid subjecting her staff to aggressive behavior from visitors clearly violating the state’s mandate.

“People who know they are doing something wrong become defensive and act up,” Baird said. “It’s hard to believe an ’essential worker’ coming through with two dogs and a ski rack.”

IMPACT

Martha Bryan, of the Cedar Glen Lodge in Tahoe Vista, closed two weeks before everyone else in March and again in December.

Bryan reopened Jan. 1 as she anticipated, and began accepting reservations with a three-night minimum to offset additional cleaning costs incurred by COVID compliance.

“My housekeepers can turn six to seven rooms for me a day,” Bryan explained. “Under the current protocol, they can only turn three rooms a day.”

Bryan said turning rooms is even more costly because she has the housekeepers clean a full day after checkout to mitigate chance of exposure.

Bryan said the business feels the financial strain, alongside that caused by refunding hundreds of thousands of dollars in the spring due to canceled reservations.

“As far as the economic impact,” Bryan added, “we have to absorb that.”

Bryan said conservative fiscal management helped the business weather 2020, and that the process of reopening in 2021 would be pursued with caution.

“We (had) a few reservations here and there,“ Bryan said, referring to the lodge’s capacity under the order after the new year. ”The guidelines are pretty unclear. We were given the order to shut down and reopen on the first, and were never advised otherwise.“

Bryan shared Baird’s concern for the difference in expectations between the lodging and resort industry.

“What’s amazing to me is the complaint that we’re running out of ICU beds and that the town is crowded,” Bryan said. “If you leave the ski resorts open, that’s an invitation.”

Ski resorts ended their 2020 spring season in March, a month earlier than usual because of the virus. Last month, officials determined resorts could remain open during the surge, but required them to suspend indoor dining.

Bryan said she saw full parking lots attached to relatively large hotels in the area during the shelter-in-place order. Bryan said it is frustrating to see some business owners profit from the losses of those in the same industry that are COVID compliant.

“When we were closed, it benefited those who fought the order and stayed open,” Bryan said

Baird said she thinks at least some of North Lake Tahoe’s infamous traffic this season is from the ever growing number of second homeowners who have transplanted to the region permanently.

Baird said the hospitality industry stands the most to gain from the marginally lifted restrictions because Nevada and Placer counties remain in California’s purple tier with a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. Even so, the difference between limiting restaurants to takeout and legally permitting outdoor dining is significant, Baird explained.

Baird did not discount the price of her now-available rooms at the Sport Hotel, she explained, because the demand is there.

Alvina Patterson, who has owned Holiday House for the last 33 years, said she wished local government would consider other facets of public health, besides those specific to epidemiology.

“I feel especially weird when it’s all so hopeless,” Patterson said, adding that she especially feels for young people and children at this time. “I mean, not going to school and interact with other friends? Suicides went up with time, that just shows the consequences.”

Patterson said her concern for people’s mental health comes from the comparisons she has drawn between life in quarantine and life during World War II.

The award-winning wind surfer was born in 1937. Her German father would eventually become a prisoner of war.

Patterson said she wishes the United States had medical resources as accessible and organized as Germany.

“You’re on your own here,“ Patterson said. ”There are ways the government could be handling it better and they aren’t.“

Patterson said the ever changing rules related to the virus make her feel hopeless.

“You always feel guilty when you make a mistake,” Patterson said of business operations during this unprecedented time.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun and The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com.

Rent Relief Program offers eligible small businesses financial support

The Placer County Board of Supervisors has approved an additional grant program to financially assist small businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19 public health restrictions. The North Lake Tahoe Emergency Rent Relief Fund will be facilitated by the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association (NLTRA); eligible businesses located in eastern Placer County could apply for emergency rental assistance starting Friday, Jan. 8.

“We have worked closely with Placer County to advocate for local business support, recognizing the crippling financial challenges this public health crisis has caused our communities,” explained Jeffrey Hentz, CEO of North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. “Our continued collaboration with Placer County, Business Associations and Sierra Small Business Council’s Small Business Development Center is focused on local business resilience and long-term economic vitality. We are excited to launch this program and get dollars into the hands of local business owners.”

The North Lake Tahoe Emergency Rent Relief Fund will offer eligible small businesses up to $5,000 in rental assistance, starting with businesses that fit within several criteria levels. Businesses that have faced closures throughout the pandemic and adhered to State of California stay at home order reopening requirements will be prioritized.

The application can be found on NLTRA.org and the deadline to apply is Friday, Jan. 22 (the submittal process is not first come/first served). Grant recipients will be determined by Feb. 1 and awarded funds must be expended by March 31. The NLTRA will work closely with North Tahoe Business Association, Tahoe City Downtown Association, Squaw Valley Business Association and Sierra Small Business Development Center to review applications and select eligible businesses. A total of $200,000 is anticipated to be awarded to the region, from summit to basin. For more information visit www.NLTRA.org.

Source: North Lake Tahoe Resort Association

Webinar on business law updates to return

The Truckee Chamber of Commerce has partnered with the Tahoe Chamber to offer the business community the opportunity to participate in their annual Level Up Webinar on HR & Employment Law updates on Jan. 21 from noon to 1:30 p.m. Attorneys of Sutton Hague Law Corporation, Brett Sutton and Jared Hague, will brief business owners and managers on the new COVID-19 compliance laws in Nevada and California and teach attendees how to keep their business protected from liability in the face of these changes.

According to the study by Hiscox, California and Nevada businesses have a 46% and 55% higher chance of having an employment charged filed against them than the average business. Many charges can be prevented by staying informed on employment law changes.

This critical webinar will provide attendees with information on the latest laws, executive orders and regulatory guidance applying to COVID-19 paid leave, reporting requirements, and vaccination requirements.

Workshop facilitators, Brett Sutton and Jared Hague, are partners at Sutton Hague Law Corporation, which has offices in both California and Nevada. Both attorneys have trained thousands in all aspects of employment law and the firm conducts bi-monthly webinars on employment law topics for California and Nevada employers.

The Level UP Webinar is being offered to Truckee Chamber members for $10 – use the promo code “TruckeeChamber” to receive this discount when registering as a non-member (of the Tahoe Chamber). To register, visit https://bit.ly/2021EmploymentLawWebinar.

 

Truckee Chamber of Commerce

The Truckee Chamber of Commerce is a membership organization of over 630 members with the goal of making a positive difference for its members and the community by continually improving the Truckee business climate and strengthening the economic development opportunities, while maintaining Truckee’s community character and sense of place.

Source: Truckee Chamber of Commerce

Town of Truckee supports Nevada County Relief Fund business micro-grants

On Dec. 22, Truckee Town Council unanimously approved an allocation of $75,000 to support small, locally-owned businesses most impacted by the State’s Regional Stay Home Order and Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework to slow the spread of COVID-19. The council’s action will support micro- grants to small businesses through the Nevada County Relief Fund program.

Facing the onset of colder weather and the Regional Stay at Home Order, many businesses find themselves battling to survive during these challenging times. Earlier this month, the Nevada County Relief Fund launched a “Small Business Winter Survival Campaign” to raise funds to support micro-grants to hard-hit businesses, and Nevada County Board of Supervisors approved a $100,000 challenge grant to support this program. The Town’s $75,000 contribution will expand the reach of this program to Truckee businesses.

Hilary Hobbs, Management Analyst for the Town of Truckee, explained at the Council meeting that, “While the Town could develop its own separate grant program, we (staff) are recommending partnering with this existing program because it will be significantly more efficient and a timely way to administer the program; getting funds out quickly to our hardest hit businesses.”

With Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation serving as the Relief Fund’s fiscal sponsor, donations may be made safely and are tax deductible. The grant application process will be administered by the Sierra Business Council, with oversight provided by the Relief Fund’s Community Advisory Council.

This is the fourth round of fundraising and grant making for the Relief Fund, which has raised nearly $800,000 for small businesses and nonprofits. This round will be dedicated to for-profit businesses, who may apply for micro-grants up to $5,000 that may be used for rent relief or other critical business expenses needed to stay open this winter. The application period is open now through Jan. 6, 2021.

Mayor Klovstad closed the discussion by stating, “I hope that the community sees our actions as both trying to care for the health of our community, as well as the health of our businesses through this action.”

To apply, donate, or for further information about the Nevada County Relief Fund, go to www.NevCoRelief.org.

Source: Town of Truckee

Tourism Business Improvement District approved for North Lake Tahoe

FROM A RELEASE:

The Placer County Board of Supervisors voted to start the formal process to create a Tourism Business Improvement District in the North Lake Tahoe region to bolster a year-round economy, offset tourism impacts and support local businesses.

The new TBID could generate up to $7 million of locally controlled funds annually to support infrastructure projects and services, and free up millions in local guest lodging tax revenues for workforce housing and traffic mitigation initiatives.

“This is an amazing first step for our business community in North Tahoe. Having worked on transportation and workforce housing issues for decades, I am pleased to see the direction this effort is taking,” said District 5 Supervisor Cindy Gustafson. “While TOT has served to bring many amazing projects to the community, I am excited about the business equity the TBID will bring. Many businesses that currently benefit from tourism do not have an avenue to contribute and participate in the conversation about the best use of local investment funds. I know that these are challenging times, but I am confident we will look back at this landmark as first step toward a more economically viable and collaborative North Tahoe.”

The TBID would fund $3.15 million for marketing and visitor services — functions Placer County currently contracts with and allocates transient occupancy tax revenue to the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association to provide. With those services funded by a TBID, that $3.9 million of transient occupancy tax revenue would be freed up to fund other local priorities, primarily local housing and traffic mitigation projects.

The remaining TBID funds will be used for offsetting tourism impacts, advocacy on behalf of local businesses, and economic development initiatives. The TBID gives the local business community full control of the funds.

“This is a major step forward in our efforts of forming a Tourism Business Improvement District for the North Lake Tahoe business community,” said Jeffrey Hentz, CEO of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. “The overwhelming support from all industry sectors validates the urgency and excitement for the funds that will be available from this initiative for critical visitor impact projects and programs. This TBID is a real example of partnership with Placer County, NLTRA, and the North Lake Tahoe business community coming together to build a cooperative business model that addresses key tourism impact needs and funding solutions.”

The NLTRA focuses on a full spectrum of tourism services, rooted in midweek and shoulder-season visitation and targeting the long-haul traveler in nonstop flight markets. This includes conference and leisure sales, consumer marketing, special events, public relations and visitor services for businesses in the North Lake Tahoe area. The Chamber of Commerce focuses efforts on educational support, industry communications, business development and advocacy, networking and economic analysis.

The NLTRA produces original content in-house to serve local businesses, most recently launching a gift card program and two shop/eat local campaigns to drive revenue for retailers and restaurants. With guidance from a 14-member Board of Directors and six committees, representatives from a broad range of business industries in North Lake Tahoe advise on consumer initiatives and corresponding budgets to ensure they reflect goals outlined in the Tourism Master Plan.

“We are humbled by the work we are able to do for the local business community and take very seriously the role we have in revenue generation for local business industries. We will continue to serve with equity, transparency and ethic,” continued Hentz.

Reports show a more than $200 million funding gap to implement regional priorities identified in the Tourism Master Plan, including housing, transportation and economic development activities. A TBID will help close this gap and allow the North Lake Tahoe region to effectively compete with its neighbors, including South Lake Tahoe and Truckee, which have already formed their own districts. Throughout the state there are currently 109 TBIDs in operation in other tourism-based communities.

California law allows for the creation of a benefit assessment district to raise funds within a specific geographic area. The governing board for the TBID is established through the TBID formation process and would include representation from lodging, restaurant, retail and activities businesses located within the boundaries of the eastern portion of unincorporated Placer County.

Businesses within the TBID would be assessed based on annual revenues, at different rates according to the business type and size. Lodging would be assessed at 2 percent, except Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows and Northstar (which already have their own assessment districts) will be assessed at 1 percent. For all other tourism-related businesses, 1 percent will be assessed on revenues greater than $150,000 and businesses making under that will be subject to a flat fee.

The next steps in the process will be the distribution of official notices to businesses that would be included in the district and holding public meetings to hear any comments or concerns. If the board, following the public hearing, determines there is no majority protest to the TBID, the board can adopt a resolution of formation.

The TBID would last five years under the current proposal. After five years, the board would again vote on whether to reestablish the district. Following recent approval from the Placer County Board of Supervisors, a public hearing notice will be sent in January, followed by a public meeting in late January and a final public hearing in March.

Source: North Lake Tahoe Resort Association

Lawsuit against Vail Resorts alleges federal, state labor law violations

A lawsuit filed against Vail Resorts on behalf of three employees is seeking class action status and alleges the company has repeatedly violated federal labor laws as well as state labor laws in Colorado, California, Utah, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, New York, Vermont and Michigan.

Vail Resort’s Heavenly Mountain Resort before the pandemic last season. Bill Rozak / Tahoe Daily Tribune

The lawsuit was filed Dec. 3 in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on behalf of Randy Dean Quint, John Linn and Mark Molina. It seeks class action status for eligible current and former employees who worked for Vail Resorts over the past three years.

“Vail Resorts has exploited plaintiffs and thousands of other seasonal employees in violation of federal and state labor laws for years, and these egregious practices continue to the present,” states the lawsuit, filed by California-based attorneys Edward P. Dietrich and Benjamin Galdston. “This action seeks to hold Vail Resorts responsible for its misconduct, fairly compensate plaintiffs and other similarly situated current and former Vail Resorts employees for damages preliminarily estimated to total more than $100 million.”

Dietrich and Galdston declined to comment on the lawsuit, however they are looking for more current or former employees to join the class action. Vail Resorts did not respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit states that while Vail Resorts has repeatedly touted its above-market hourly wages, it “willfully and systematically fails to pay its hourly employees for all hours worked at the hourly wage specified in employment agreements.”

It alleges that ski and snowboard instructors and other employees, including ticket scanners and lift operators, are to various degrees not fully paid for their entire shifts, for “off the clock” work Vail Resorts requires or accepts, for some types of training, for travel and dressing time, or for the use, purchase or maintenance of their ski and snowboard equipment or their cellphones.

“All told, Vail Resorts fails to pay snow sports instructors for more than 2.5 hours of work per day in violation of the the (Fair Labor Standards Act) and applicable state law,” the lawsuit alleges.

According to the 167-page lawsuit, Quint has worked as a seasonal Vail Resorts employee and full-time snow sport instructor for seven years at Beaver Creek Resort. The lawsuit estimates he worked 470 hours that he was not paid for from December 2017 to December 2019, as well as 422 hours of unpaid overtime.

Linn — also a resident of Colorado who has worked as a part-time and full-time snow sports instructor at Beaver Creek — worked 213 hours he was not paid for from December 2017 through March 2020, as well as 130 hours of unpaid overtime, according to the lawsuit.

“Vail Resorts knowingly failed to compensate plaintiffs and thousands of other similarly situated employees at their relevant hourly rate for all time worked. Vail Resorts also knowingly failed to reimburse plaintiffs and others similarly situated for costs associated with their smartphones and tools of the trade used in performance of their jobs and for the benefit of Vail Resorts. In violation of federal and state laws, Vail Resorts has illegally reaped millions of dollars at the expense of plaintiffs and other class members,” the lawsuit states.

Tom Lotshaw can be reached at tlotshaw@vaildaily.com.

Regional stay-at-home order to hit Nevada County today at midnight

The regional stay-at-home order announced last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom, applicable to any of the state’s five regions for three weeks should their regional ICU bed availability fall below 15%, will go into effect in Nevada County today.

According to the order’s guidelines, restrictions are to take effect 11:59 p.m. the day after a region falls under the 15% ICU availability threshold. For the region Nevada County is in, that happened Wednesday, meaning the stay-at-home order kicks in just before midnight today.

ICU bed availability in the Greater Sacramento region — a 13-county area which includes Nevada County as designated by the order — was 14.3% as of Wednesday afternoon.

Hair salons, barbershops, and personal care services are among the businesses ordered to close under the stay-at-home order. Under the purple — or “widespread” — risk tier, these were permitted to operate indoors with modifications, including facial coverings and distancing.

Christa Paul, owner of Bang! Hair Saloon in Grass Valley, said businesses such as hers would be better equipped to deal with closures if they received more financial support from state and local government.

“When they ask us to shut down, it’s not an easy decision to make,” said Paul. Business owners would be more willing to close, she said, if they knew that doing so “would not be forever.”

Paul said she believes her business would survive the three-week closure, but is “not going to go unscathed,” as debt accumulates and a dozen employees lose their income. The winter holiday season, according to Paul, is normally their busiest time of year, in appointments as well as product and gift card sales around Christmas.

Restaurants, which were required to limit dine-in service to outdoor seating under the purple-tier guidelines, will be further limited to takeout or delivery only under the stay-at-home order.

“We are doing our part, and we are following all the guidelines,” said Tracy Lapierre, manager of Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant in Grass Valley. As they do so, however, she said she is concerned customers will prefer to go to other restaurants which will flout the guidelines instead.

Lapierre said that, so far, relying more heavily on takeout with some outdoor seating was “holding us steady but not near what we’re used to,” leading to staff layoffs. She said more staff will be laid off as the restaurant shifts to a takeout only “skeleton crew.”

“Our feeling is we just want it to be over, and we hope everybody follows the rules so we can move on and start next year on a new slate,” she said.

Retail and shopping centers will also have tightened restrictions, according to the order, which will require both to reduce indoor capacity to 20%, and standalone grocery stores to 35%.

Critical infrastructure, schools, medical and dental care, and child care services are to remain open under the stay-at-home order.

Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at vpenate@theunion.com.

Decline of long-lead bookings makes season ahead harder to predict

The volume of short-lead (gray) and long-lead (orange) bookings at Western mountain resorts.
ABOUT INSIGHTS COLLECTIVE

The Insights Collective is a pandemic economy think tank, established to provide insights and actionable recommendations to public and private sector decision makers in leisure travel destinations. For more information, visit www.theinsightscollective.com.

As mountain destinations anticipate or begin ski operations for the 2020-21 winter season, all eyes — from state and local government to the liftie — are focused on what the season will look like not only operationally on the mountain, but downstream through the balance of the community. 

As tourism-dependent economies, most towns are anxious about how, when, or even if guests will travel this season, how long they’ll stay and what they’ll spend while here. But seeing that far ahead is proving to be a real problem at most mountain towns as booking lead times contract dramatically, making the “view” ahead murky at best. And it’s not likely to change much in the months to come.

Consumers adopted a “wait and see” attitude back in May, with most reservations booked at that time not scheduled to arrive until more than 180 days in the future; uncertainty created a very “long lead” booking window. But with reopening and the socialization of COVID-19 management policies in late May and June, pent-up demand was released, and lead times compressed from 180 days to about 30 – whiplash indeed, and visualized by the grey line on the accompanying chart. 

Long-lead bookings fall off

The release of winter operating plans by the major ski operators in August and early September brought lead times back up as bookings for January through April increased dramatically (see the orange line on the chart), while the short-lead bookings remained constant. However, with that second wave of pent up demand that focused on winter bookings spent and increasing incidence of COVID-19, consumers have returned to a cautious stance, with long-lead bookings falling off dramatically over the past 45 days. Though there is still modest volume, they now make up a fraction of the total transactions and the majority of reservations taking place over the past 45 days has been for November and December arrivals, with little activity beyond Martin Luther King day in mid-January. 

Erik Austin, vice president of Reservations at Vail Resorts, which has lodging inventory across North American resorts, echoes this broader industry data, though perhaps not as dramatically, stating that “lead time for reservations continues to drop as we get closer to season start, down 11 days now, with growth to Christmas, and January through March all down (versus last year).” 

Predictions becoming increasingly difficult

We expect that, as incidence of disease continues in both source and destination markets, those booking lead times will remain compressed for the foreseeable future. 

On the upside, lodging properties, activity providers and other suppliers are able to accurately anticipate the immediate future and plan staffing and supply chains accordingly, assuming there are no short-term disruptions. But booking activity is so focused on the short-term that even two months into the future is hard to anticipate, which creates angst and may make some suppliers reluctant to guarantee staffing beyond the immediate 45 days or force them into over- or under-ordering supplies such as food and liquor.

On the downside, the crystal ball for the balance of the season is murky. While the period through Dec. 31 is important both in terms of setting the tone of the season and realizing those first critical revenue collections, the majority of revenue and occupancy for the industry occur in January through March, and those dates rely heavily on early bookings that are yet to substantially materialize. This makes long-term planning — from staffing and supplies to engineering, town operations, budgeting, and tax revenue collections — hard to anticipate. 

Complicating the issue, the resistance to booking long-lead reservations isn’t mirrored in the prior year data set, meaning that while consumers wait, booking pace — the measurement of reservations made this year versus last year for a corresponding set of arrival dates — is creating occupancy and revenue deficits for January through March that will be harder to overcome. 

Some bright spots in short-lead data

But despite the difficulty seeing long-term, there are bright spots in short-lead data that we can use, even if only to mitigate angst and build positive anticipation, both in the current lodging data and in the greater marketplace. 

First off, both October and November are reporting strong revenue gains at mountain resorts, with October revenue up 22 percent versus October 2019, and November (on the books as of Oct. 31) up 22.9 percent. In a bit of a mixed message, while these gains are being driven by extremely strong room rates, they’re not being driven by strong occupancy, which was all but flat for both months. This is information about the type of guest that’s currently booking that lodgers can use to create the best possible revenue-generating scenario going forward. 

Secondarily, the strong room rate for October and November is also showing up in longer lead reservations. Importantly, this means that lodging properties are not being forced to decline room rate at a time when occupancy is weak, a combination that the industry had to adopt coming out of 2008-09 and from which it took almost 72 months to recover. 

But it also means that price doesn’t appear to be a significant barrier to occupancy, leading us to assume that health and wellness are, and making recent announcements of highly effective vaccine candidates from both Pfizer and Moderna that much more strategically important to the industry in the long-run, hopefully instilling renewed confidence in the consumer to return to longer lead bookings, and restoring the view of the runway ahead as the industry spools up for takeoff and recovery.

North Lake Tahoe launches five-week Shop Local campaign

The North Lake Tahoe Resort Association and regional business associations have teamed up to help make holiday shopping even more rewarding this year. In an effort to encourage shopping locally, a five-week holiday shopping scavenger hunt will kick off on Saturday, Nov. 28 (Small Business Saturday) with a goal of driving locals and visitors around the region to complete shopping related challenges.

Supporting small, locally owned businesses is critical this season as it helps ensure the viability of local retailers. While safety measures are reiterated in the campaign – the wearing of face masks, the importance of maintaining physical distance, and reminding patrons to exercise patience – the North Lake Tahoe destination continues to allocate marketing dollars to enhance the local business community.

The contest will run through the Goosechase App, which is free to download and use. Once players join the contest on the App, they will see over 100 challenges to complete for points. Each week a team/player will be selected to win prizes and at the end, the team/player who acquires the most points will win a grand prize. All participants will be required to accept safety terms to participate in the contest.

“Many local businesses are struggling to survive, and employees may be laid off as we approach the holiday season,” explained Jeffrey Hentz, CEO of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. “I urge everyone to commit their support for small businesses and give gifts from the talented artisans and unique retail stores that comprise North Lake Tahoe’s five districts. Our shopping and dining choices are hugely impactful to local business success.”

The Shop Local campaign, in conjunction with the Takeout Tahoe campaign, will continue to be promoted across North Lake Tahoe’s digital channels, along with safe travel content. For more information about the campaigns, visit GoTahoeNorth.com.