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Winter vacation bookings are lagging in Summit County. But industry experts say there’s still time for that to change.

3 min read
Winter vacation bookings are lagging in Summit County. But industry experts say there’s still time for that to change.
Winter vacation bookings are lagging in Summit County. But industry experts say there’s still time for that to change.
Condominiums are pictured in Wildernest near Silverthorne on Jan. 25, 2024. Bookings for lodging such as short-term rentals are trending down for the 2023-24 winter season compared to the prior year.
Robert Tann/Summit Daily News

Vacation bookings in Summit County for the 2023-24 winter season are continuing to trend slightly downward compared to last year. 

A change in consumer trends has made predicting travel for major dates like Presidents Day weekend and spring break harder — meaning there’s still time to reverse course, industry experts say.

“Things are kind of slow, it’s not picking up as fast as it usually would this time of the season,” said Julie Koster, executive director of Summit Alliance of Vacation Rental Managers, which represents more than 4,500 vacation rental properties in Summit County. 

In the latter half of February, for example, countywide bookings are as much as 20% lower compared to February 2023. Presidents Day weekend, which will likely last from Feb. 15 to Feb. 19, is flat compared to last year, Koster said. 

The decline in March is less dramatic, with a roughly 4% decrease in bookings for the month. 

Koster said she’s hoping for a “pretty big change” within the next week or two as vacationers are now booking anywhere between three to seven days closer to their arrival date compared to last year. 

“It’s kind of a moving target,” Koster said. 

In Breckenridge, Presidents Day weekend bookings are down 12% while spring break bookings between March 1 and April 7 are down 6%, according to Breckenridge Tourism Office Director of Operations Bill Wishowski. 

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Based on past booking trends, Wishowski estimates the town is roughly halfway through its total bookings for spring break, adding, “Breck has a history of having a significant amount of last-minute bookings.”

Wishowski and Koster said they both hope more snow will entice travelers who may book more last-minute based on conditions. A below-average start to the winter season has only recently lifted after several back-to-back snow storms earlier this month sent snowpack levels surging

“We’re hoping that weather is a big factor in that and if we see some bigger snowstorms come through that will change things for February,” Koster said. 

Another factor industry experts are keeping tabs on is how much vacationers spend on lodging. 

Despite multiple feet of fresh snow piling up at nearby ski areas, Summit County saw a decline in guest spending over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. In Breckenridge, the average daily rate was down $8, a roughly 2% decrease from that time last year, according to Wishowski. 

Countywide, the rate was down between $5 and $10 per night in January even as bookings were fairly flat. Koster said it translates to “a lot of nights for less money.”

While Koster said she remains “cautiously optimistic” for a strong tourism season, any further declines in bookings or spending could cause problems for local businesses that rely on tourism. It’s a problem that becomes especially salient for business owners and vacation-rental managers still facing the impacts of inflation. 

“Wages and the cost of managing people continue to get higher while the revenue continues to go the other way,” Koster said. 

And as the cost of ski tickets increase, with neighboring ski areas like Vail Mountain charging nearly $300 for a single-day pass in the leadup to New Year’s Eve, Koster said she worries about pricing out travelers. 

“The cost of a day ticket is very cost-prohibitive for a lot of working and middle-class families in America,” she said. “So I hope we can stay competitive.”

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