Last-second booking the new normal as ski season approaches in Park City

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PARK CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – On the night before ski season begins, lodging reservations in November and December are down over last year — and the forecast past December looks much worse.

But, it might not be all bad news. Local officials and a national company that tracks resort towns both are noticing the same trend: despite lower-than-normal lodging reservations, a surge in last-second booking is likely to continue through winter. Although nobody can be sure.

“Looking at November, compared to last year, only being 10 percent down, I think is a really positive sign,” said Jennifer Wesselhoff, president of the Park City Chamber of Commerce.

“December, with still a month or so to go to the holidays, only being 18 percent down compared to where we were last year, is really optimistic. Looking too much further ahead into January, February March — it’s just too early,” she added.

“Travel behavior has changed so much that those numbers aren’t even realistic,” said Wesselhoff.

Bookings certainly could improve, but the annual variable of snow totals — plus a pandemic, and whether government stimulus is passed through Congress — bring uncertainty to ski season this year. That’s according to Tom Foley with Inntopia, a company that tracks booking data in resort towns across the West.

“Occupancy from January to March is down dramatically. Over 40 percent for each of those months,” said Foley, explaining the data he’s seeing across resort towns.

“And therefore so is revenue. Now, because we’re comparing to last year, at this time last year those months were collecting bookings, and this year we’re not,” he said.

“And that hole’s getting a little deeper — as we go forward in time it’s going to be harder to dig out from,” added Foley.

Small businesses are facing an uncertain ski season — but Wesselhoff says they are staying optimistic.

“A large percentage of our businesses, especially in the Main Street district, are small businesses, and small business owners. So of course everyone is really nervous, but keeping their fingers crossed that we get through the ski season. Our resorts are confident and committed to staying open through the season, and following strict protocols,” she said.

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