While a rise in pent-up demand dominated some markets around the world over the past few months, many markets have seen booking pace slow down in recent weeks as the extended summer season comes to a close. Now, the main focus for some seasonal markets is the upcoming winter ski season. While ski markets around the world typically see strong demand starting in late November all the way through April, this year’s season is approaching with quite a few unknown variables. One of the largest factors that guests and property managers are taking into account for this year’s ski season is how mountain resorts are adapting and adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vail Resorts, for example, announced in August that their resorts will require face coverings and advanced lift reservations in order to access the mountains. Reservations opened November 6th for pass holders and will likely have an impact on how and when guests plan their travel. These new considerations for ski market travel will likely have an impact on booking pace throughout the winter, and will be important for property managers to consider when maintaining their revenue management strategy.
Changes to the Guest Booking Journey
As it stands now, most ski resort areas around the world have announced operating plans for the upcoming season to prepare for safe operations while remaining open. It is important for property managers to understand how these measures will impact the overall guest experience when traveling this winter, especially when it comes to accommodation. Since most guests travel to ski markets with plans to hit the slopes, if it is difficult to buy passes or make reservations, some guests may be deterred from traveling. For the ski resorts that are limiting capacity via an advance reservation system, there will likely be more spread-out demand through the winter as it will be easier to make reservations on historically lower demand ski dates compared to high demand dates like holidays. This is likely to benefit most property managers who can price their winter season effectively and attract many different types of guests throughout the next few months.
Most ski resorts are planning optimistically for the winter and assuming that reduced-capacity operations will not be interrupted at any point, but there is still a chance that mountains may need to close due to the pandemic. It will be important for property managers to stay up-to-date regarding the latest trends in their market when it comes to new COVID-19 cases and operational changes at ski resorts. Taking into consideration how the guest booking journey has and will continue to change over the next few months is key for property managers to gain a deeper understanding of the demand coming into their market.
Market Pace Updates
As we approach ski season in many markets around the world, we can take a look at how many bookings properties are taking this year compared to last year over the past 14 days to understand how booking lead time has changed in 2020. We’ve compiled data from a few popular ski markets in the United States and Europe to show how demand stands today.
In the above chart, we can see that in some ski markets like Tahoe and Breckenridge, bookings per listing over the past 14 days have surpassed 2019. In other markets like Chamonix, the Northern Alps, Aspen, and Vail, listings are still behind booking pace compared to 2019.
Looking at occupancy pacing compared to previous years can help display where a market or portfolio is falling behind, and this chart shows future occupancy for 2020 and early 2021, compared to what was on the books in this market on the same day back in 2019. For the Aspen & Vail market, we can see that occupancy rates for Thanksgiving and the rest of 2020 up until Christmas are ahead of last year, with Christmas and New Year slightly behind. Looking further into early 2021, most days in January and February are ahead of pace compared to early 2020. This data clearly shows how travel demand is already filling in for some of the historically lower-demand dates in the market where guests are able to make ski mountain reservations and enjoy more travel flexibility.
This chart tells a different story for the Chamonix ski market in France. While ski resorts there have planned to operate through the high demand winter months, recent national lockdowns in France and other regions across Europe have put a pause on operations for now. We can see on this occupancy pacing chart that vacation rental properties in the area are significantly pacing behind 2019 and early 2020 occupancy levels through the early months of winter. It will become increasingly important for property managers in all markets to understand how local and national lockdown restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will have an impact on tourist demand for their market. There are plenty of ways to adapt to low or changing demand for your market compared to previous years, and now is the time to start thinking about ways to maintain your strategy through the winter.
Strategies for Staying Ahead of the Curve
Depending on how ski resort operating plans have been developed in your market, you may need to take action now to optimize your revenue management strategy. If booking pace is down for your portfolio compared to 2019 for the winter, take into consideration how booking lead time has changed this year in general. There is likely no room for concern about low revenue or occupancy pace for a stay date 4 months from now, for example, if the average booking lead time in your market has decreased to 30 day before arrival. Staying proactive with your pricing and distribution strategy within the average booking lead time window is where most of the focus should be right now, since that aligns with how guests are booking your properties and other listings in the market. Utilizing tools like Last Minute Discounts and minimum stay gap filling can help automate some of this process and increase bookings within that pricing booking window. You can take advantage of Beyond Pricing’s free Insights tool to get this necessary data for your listings and your market by creating an account.
In addition to focusing revenue management efforts on the short term moving through the winter, property managers should align their booking and cancellation policies with the average guest in their market. With so much uncertainty around travel this year, guests are looking for flexibility when making accommodation plans and factor it into their decision to book even more than before. A more flexible cancellation policy may convince guests to book accommodation before securing a ski resort mountain reservation, for example. Effectively communicating your policies and staying up-to-date with competitor policies will be key moving through the winter, as guests are focusing more on policies and not just pricing alone. For more information and advice on vacation rental cancellation policies, check out our latest blog on the topic. Most importantly this ski season, property managers will need to stay on top of the latest trends in their market and at large ski resorts to understand how the guest booking journey has changed this year. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that staying agile and proactive with revenue management is the key to success. Doing so will ensure that expectations are aligned among travelers, property managers, and owners alike as ski season ramps up over the next few weeks.
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