'Snow hangover' may curtail advance bookings, hoteliers say

The Lake Tahoe Basin may suffer from a snow hangover in the upcoming 2012-13 ski season.

This season's poor snow conditions could curb travel to the region, especially from international clientele, hotel executives and vacation rental managers say but even more worrisome is the financial uncertainty troubling Europe.

Billion-dollar bailouts and the potential devaluation of the euro could wipe out gains made by strong spring and summer bookings, says Les Pedersen, director of sales and marketing for the 400-room Resort at Squaw Creek.

Bookings for the coming summer months are up anywhere from 20 to 40 percent in leisure occupancy depending on the month, Pedersen says. And despite the rotten skiing conditions at regional ski resorts last winter, bookings in the first part of the year remained stable, Pedersen says, mostly due to strong convention and group business at Resort at Squaw Creek.

"Our advance bookings only took us up to January, and after that from a leisure aspect we were at the mercy of snow," Pedersen says. "It was not good in that respect, but we had a lot of group and convention bookings through last winter, and they sort of helped shield us from the snow conditions."

Pedersen says it's too early in the year to tell if the Lake Tahoe Basin will have a snow hangover for the winter of 2012-2013. More pressing than the question of snow or no snow, though, is the fact that European travelers may choose to stay closer to home for their ski vacations due to lingering economic uncertainty.

On a positive note, Pedersen says, the north end of the Lake Tahoe Basin will benefit from the multi-million dollar on-mountain improvements taking place at Squaw Valley ski resort.

"They will make Squaw a more attractive ski destination than in the past, and we are very excited to see all the improvements going on," he says.

Don Cauley, general manager of Vacation Station in Incline Village, says the upcoming winter will go one of two ways: Vacationers could be disappointed with the most recent Sierra snowfall and be hesitant to book vacations to the region; or they could have pent-up demand from lack of skiing over the past winter and be eager to hit the slopes.

Late January, February and March were poor months for vacation rentals, Cauley says, but since then the region has been blessed with some beautiful late spring weather that kicked off an early summer tourism season and helped make up lost ground.

Late spring, or the "shoulder season" before summer begins, typically is one of the slowest times of the year for property managers and hoteliers. And the past two years, summer didn't really get into full swing until July. This year, however, sunny summer weather graced Northern California and Nevada beginning in May.

Between now and Labor Day, Cauley says, advance bookings are trending up 15 percent year over year.

Brisk summer tourism may lead to a healthy winter. Vail Resorts, operator of Heavenly Mountain Resort, Northstar-at-Tahoe and Kirkwood Ski Resort, says snowfall totals for last season were off by more than 50 percent across the company's resorts. Unseasonably warm weather and low snowfall curtailed visitation during spring break and Easter, key vacations periods for regional ski resorts. However, Vail says in its fiscal third quarter SEC filing, season pass sales for the 2012-2013 season remain brisk and usually represent one-third of all season passes sold.

Stacy Brissenden, sales and marketing director for Tahoe Lakeshore Lodge & Spa on the California side of South Lake Tahoe, says the lakefront property isn't waiting for Mother Nature to determine its fate this winter. Executives at the property are working with Heavenly to develop value ski-and-stay packages in order to lure vacationers.

"We are just really trying to put out there that no matter what happens, if its either an epic or similar type of season, people should still come out for their ski vacation," Brissenden says.

Tahoe Lakeshore Lodge & Spa already has received some winter bookings, she adds. The summer months are looking especially strong at the property reservations for June already are up 30 percent year over year, and the rest of the summer months are looking strong as well.

The resort was up 4 to 6 percent during the winter months, Brissenden notes.

"We really didn't take a hard hit from the no snow this year. We are a lakefront property, so we appeal to people who are coming up and are excited that there is not too much snow on the ground and can enjoy a lakefront property."


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