Overall occupancy at major western mountain resorts finished up 5.7 percent this winter compared to last season and on-the-books occupancy for the May through October period is running 6.6 percent ahead of last year, according to Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP).

The season started with strong momentum but faded as the season progressed except for strong numbers in March at most destinations. Actual occupancy was up in five of the six months (all but April) while nightly rates were up four of the six months (all but February and April).  April itself was weaker than last year with occupancy down 2.5 percent compared to April 2010.

These increases were supported by slow but steady improvements in the overall economy with an appreciative nod to Mother Nature who certainly did her part in most regions, explained Ralf Garrison, director of MTRiP. MTRiPs lodging results generally track destination guests but are consistent with the skier visit numbers released by the National Ski Areas Association that recently reported 60.1 million skier/rider visits which were also up from last year and close behind the record of 60.5 million visits in 2007-08.

The report also provided the most recent data on the upcoming summer season.  The month of May is currently up 8.8 percent while on-the-books occupancy for the next six months (May-October) is up 6.6 percent with average nightly rate down 0.3 percent.

Key economic indicators for April were also summarized in the monthly report.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up four percent, unemployment was down to nine percent with 240,000 new jobs added, and the Consumer Confidence Index was up 2.5 percent.  On the less positive side, there were sharp increases in both the Consumer Price Index and the Travel Price Index (TPI) with both increases attributed to the rise in crude oil.

For the travel industry, our big concern is that the increase in the TPI means travel inflation has jumped up to 6.9 percent and is dramatically outpacing consumer inflation at 2.7 percent, said Tom Foley, MTRiP analyst.  Despite that important consideration, in recent months weve watched the elements come together to provide a robust foundation for economic recovery with the lead indicators increasing consistently and giving us cause for optimism.

The report pointed out that while summer occupancy is pacing ahead of last year, nightly rates remain flat at this point.

We are pleased to report that nearly all the metrics are up and looking forward, things are going the right way, said Garrison.  There remains uncertainty and inconsistency among some indicators and results vary significantly in some cases, but we continue to consider the cup more than half full, he added.

MTRiP data is derived from a sample of 265 property management companies in 15 mountain destination communities, representing 24,000 rooms across Colorado, Utah, California, and Oregon and may not reflect the entire mountain destination travel industry. Results may vary significantly among/between resorts and participating properties.