Tourism projections show peak Saturday

— This weekend could mark an island of robust tourism in the midst of a four-week ocean of doldrums.

The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association is forecasting that about 11,600 tourists will spend the night here on Saturday. That's up 10 percent from the same Saturday last winter. The three-day holiday that marks the birthday of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. has become an important weekend for the ski industry, bridging semester break for college groups to the return of family vacations in mid-February.

However, tourism looks like it will drop off substantially again on Jan. 23, and resort leaders don't really expect a significant upturn until after Feb. 10.

"The first week in January was our best ever, but the last three weeks have really slowed down," Harry Lambart of Steamboat Premier Properties said. Lambart's company manages 250 rental units spread across eight high-end complexes.

Lambart acknowledged his company's experience in late January was influenced by the fact that it does not accept reservations from college groups.

Lambart expects the condominiums he manages to be very close to the 76 percent occupancy rate projected by the chamber for mountain condos this weekend. Resort wide, Steamboat's 18,306 pillows will be 78 percent full. The lodging barometer released by the chamber is neither scientific, nor a complete poll of all the lodging properties here.

The latest update of the lodging barometer shows that momentum is building for the holiday weekend. On Jan. 11, the Chamber's early forecast for Saturday night anticipated 9,981 visitors would be here. The forecast has increased by 1,600 tourists in seven days.

Lambart is hopeful walk-in traffic will send occupancy this holiday weekend even higher than the 78 percent forecasted.

"I was talking with some other people (in the property management business) and we all agreed that over Christmas, we had more last-minute reservations than ever in Steamboat's history," Lambart said. "The last three weeks, that hasn't been happening."

Although the ski season jet flights coming into Yampa Valley Regional airport in December dispelled the notion that the public was reluctant to fly, Lambart believes the nation's economy is having an impact on winter tourism.

Of the various categories of lodging properties recognized by the chamber, the group described as "other lodging" will be the busiest this weekend, at 97 percent occupancy. "Other lodging" includes the U.S. 40 chain motels on the city's south side.

"We are already sold out for Saturday," Barbara Robinson, general manager of the Holiday Inn, said.

"We have very little left for Friday. It will continue strong next week. On Wednesday, we're

80-percent full."

Downtown lodging properties are expected to be just 52 percent full Saturday night. That's a 4 percent slip from the same Saturday a year ago. On Wednesday, the chamber expects the number of guests in Steamboat to drop to 5,909. That compares to 9,226 on the corresponding Wednesday a year ago. Downtown lodging properties will take the biggest hit again on Wednesday, slipping to 24 percent occupancy compared to 75 percent a year ago.

Next Saturday, Jan. 26, the chamber is currently forecasting 8,413 visitors, or about 57 percent occupancy.

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