By Sharon Schoeffield
Booking an event in the Colorado Rockies typically requires advance planning, more now than in the past. There are many forces affecting the availability of meeting and lodging space in mountain resorts, and this squeeze is not necessarily all due to an increase in conference business.
As the population has grown in Colorado, so has the interest in mountain towns for example. New Coloradoans are bringing their families to towns and resorts all over the state; essentially, we have experienced an influx of FIT (free individual traveler) business. This impacts inventory during summer, popular weekends, holidays and school breaks.
In addition, there is continued growth of special events in the mountains, which adds great opportunities for built-in fun but necessitates lodging being booked early. This is also being felt in Front Range cities and towns, as much of the state has seen exponential growth in art, food and music festivals. Sports events are also popular in resort destinations. From triathlons to franchised events like Tough Mudder, all are competing for the locations and dates once used mainly by conference groups.
Flexibility is important
So what does this mean to group business? Bottom line, it means that flexibility when looking for event space is key. Ability to change an event’s arrival date and pattern is important; it can make the difference between getting your preferred destination or not. Flexible agendas also will help. Square footage matters. The more you need, the further out in time you must be looking.
For larger groups, during peak periods, mountain resorts are at times booking 3-4 years in advance. Multiple-year contracts are also trending to secure a preferred date and location. Conferences look at the calendar and work around traditional vacation time periods, which pushes demand for conference space between holiday dates so peak meeting dates are being secured two and three years out.
If dates are not flexible, planners may find that many resorts may have no ability to negotiate concessions or the discounts traditionally offered. In addition, there might be two- or three-night minimums, a restricted number of rooms allowed at a group rate, and upgrades among the many extras used to secure a contract. This isn’t to scare anyone away, it’s just a heads up that having various date options is very beneficial.
Avoid peak seasons when possible
As demand increases, flexibility isn’t always going to ensure you can book your favorite destinations in Colorado or anywhere. Groups that have traditionally booked in the “off season” in the mountains are finding that it is no longer possible to book a year out. The word is out: Even though it’s not peak season, services, restaurants and retail shops are open for business year-round now.
Avoiding peak seasons can be a great value for planners and their attendees. Plus it’s a quieter and more relaxed time in the destination for outfitters, restaurants and attractions. Considering dates with lower demand can offer more favorable concessions and reduced rates across the board. Those who have to wait for an annual budget before booking meeting and event space should be ready to look in multiple destinations, but that is where Colorado excels. There are so many great choices!
Room block tips
No longer can conference attendees assume that there will be rooms available when they decide to make their reservation, making it important to educate attendees about this fact. Sizes of room blocks and changes to them aren’t as easy to make as in the past. The individual procrastinators are finding “no room at the inn.” Room blocks that have been conservative (under blocked) in the past may need to be more exact if enough rooms are desired. Having a solid history can help accuracy when contracting rooms. Working with a property to create multiple release dates for attrition is one way groups who book further out have less risk. It’s a win-win for the planner and property.
Plan in advance
Starting location research two to three years out is the norm for large- and medium-sized groups considering popular destinations. For groups unable to contract this far out, flexibility will help in finding the right venue and destination. There is no question that costs for events, as well as the availability, are causing pressure on those looking at place to hold a meeting.
Luckily we enjoy a wonderful array of places to experience Colorado, so second or even third choice can surprise and delight. This great state offers so much for residents as well as those coming in from around the country. We are lucky to call Colorado home, and with a little planning, knowledge and flexibility we can help secure the right destination for your meeting or event.
Sharon Schoeffield is the National Sales Manager for Copper Mountain Resort and has been working in the hospitality industry for more than 25 years in sales, marketing and management for mountain destinations. She lives in Breckenridge and is an adjunct professor at the local campus of Colorado Mountain College teaching a freshman business class.