Tahoe-Truckee, American West seeing strong ski lodging rebound
TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — Snow is currency in a mountain town, and right now the Tahoe region is seeing a long-awaited return on investment.
Lodging officials and resort industry economists are reporting that the Tahoe Basin has seen a spike in visitation as well as lift ticket sales following the holiday season.
According to DestiMetrics — a Denver-based consulting firm the measures ski industry lodging trends in the Rockies and farther west — resorts across the West saw a 2.5 percent increase in lodging occupancy in December, when compared to last year.
That number is, however, considerably higher farther west in places like Tahoe due in part to El Niño’s media impact and a rebounding snowpack.
“As you would expect, the far West is enjoying early and strong bookings that are considerably above the last several years,” said DestiMetrics director of operations Tom Foley, “apparently approaching double-digit increases over last year.”
Regarding the company’s findings, director Ralf Garrison added, “If the far West wasn’t included — if it was just the Rocky Mountains — (booking increases) would be flat at best.”
Locally, Jerry Bindel, chair of the South Tahoe Tourism Improvement District and Lakeland Village Resort general manager, said area lodging companies were reporting anywhere from a 15 to 20 percent increase in visitation between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
“Really, that entire 14-day period was very strong,” he said when comparing to other years where they typically see dips in lodging between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The strong close to 2015 combined with an increasingly solid snowpack has industry officials optimistic for the remainder of the season.
“January and February already look strong on the books,” Bindel said for the South Shore. “The more we get storms, the better. It seeds the destination traveler.”
Speaking to larger western trends, Garrison said that — according to resorts they study — lodging numbers are currently at 75 percent of last year’s numbers.
“Right now we have 75 percent of last year’s total in the bank or on the books,” he explained.
That number includes 26 percent from visitors who have already come and gone and 49 percent from current lodging reservations for the remainder of the season.
“Usually the first part of the season presents momentum for the second part of the season,” Garrison said, discussing the potential for the trend to continue. In that regard and looking back on the holidays, he added, “Tahoe killed it.”
As for the bigger picture for the Tahoe Basin moving forward, Garrison said that — with consistent snowfall — Tahoe could start to compete with the Rockies for destination visitation because of improved infrastructure at places like Heavenly Mountain Resort and Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows. Traditionally the region has been more of a regional destination, according to Garrison.
“They have the opportunity,” he said, “(Tahoe’s) destination product is growing and increasingly competitive with the Rocky Mountains and Utah.”
Snow remains the wild card.
“One year does not a trend make,” Garrison said, also adding, “the good thing about consumers is that they don’t remember much for long.”
Meaning another year of consistent snowfall could put four down years more firmly in the rear view in the minds of consumers.