Mt. Bachelor ski area recorded the earliest 100-inch snow base in more than a decade during the Christmas through New Year's holiday break, luring skiers and snowboarders who flocked to the mountain and packed into motels, shops and restaurants in Bend and across Central Oregon.
“The holiday season started out really snowy. We got 5 feet of snow in five days,” said Andy Goggins, Mt. Bachelor's communications director. “All of our terrain was open, and all 71 runs and 11 lifts were busy. We had skiing off the summit and back side of the summit. We had good crowds throughout the weekend.”
Alana Audette, president and CEO of the Central Oregon Visitors Association, said COVA conducted a pre-holiday survey on Dec. 17 that showed bookings at that point were flat to slightly above the same period in 2009, but a post-holiday survey conducted Monday showed bookings increased by as much as 14 percent to 15 percent for many of the region's motels and other lodging establishments located outside Bend.
Motel and resort operators told Audette many of the last-minute bookings were made within seven to 14 days of the stay. Motels at the low end tended to have flat bookings, with most of the increase reported by upper-end establishments.
“Many of our holiday bookings come from people in Oregon and Washington who are watching the weather patterns and road conditions,” Audette said. “If people are driving here to ski, they want to make sure the ski conditions are going to be optimal, and that driving conditions aren't going to pose them any problem getting here or getting home.”
Plentiful snow on the mountain also boosted business at restaurants, brewpubs and tour companies.
“The snow brought some travelers over the mountains this year, that's for sure,” said James Meskill, general manager at Deschutes Brewery in Bend.
“We had a lot of big groups — a lot of family vacationers,” Meskill said.
Dave Nissen, co-owner of Wanderlust Tours of Bend, which leads snowshoeing tours in the region, said business was up 33 percent during the 2010 Christmas vacation period, compared with the 2009 holiday season.
“Between 60 and 70 percent of our clients come from Oregon, Washington or California, but as I scanned through the reservations, it surprised me how many clients we had this season from Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, Florida, Texas and Arizona,” Nissen said.
However, the biggest increase was in people from the Willamette Valley, he said.
“Oregon has been hit pretty hard by the economic decline, so I am very glad people from Oregon are feeling confident enough in the economy to entertain the family,” Nissen said. “A fun thing was we had a huge increase in our moonlight and starlight snowshoe tours, including a New Year's Eve bonfire tour where we saw a most impressive shooting star that left an image of its tail across the sky for 20 minutes.”
Rob Weston, a server and bartender at Scanlon's restaurant in Bend, estimated business was up about a third over the 2009 Christmas to New Year's holiday season.
“I would say it was a combination of locals and tourists,” Weston said. “We definitely saw a lot more tourists, some locals we have seen before, and some locals we have never seen before who heard about us and came in to celebrate the holidays.”
Another encouraging trend in COVA's lodging survey showed much of the last-minute surge was for upscale accommodations, which indicates people are feeling more confident about spending on travel and tourism.
“While consumers continued to look for deals, the survey showed people are willing to upgrade to luxury hotels, resort condos and luxury vacation homes,” Audette said. “People are returning to their travel habits that are more consistent with what we saw in 2007-2008, pre-recession.”
An actual tally of room-tax collections allocated to COVA for December won't be completed until the first week of February, but Audette is confident the tax revenues will be up, based on the surveys.
Doug La Placa, president and CEO of Visit Bend, the city's tourism-promotion agency, said plentiful snow at Mt. Bachelor and at Hoodoo ski area northwest of Sistersdrew skiers and snowboarders to area motels.
“Early indications are it was a good December from a tourism perspective in Bend,” La Placa said.
He said city room-tax revenues have been up for 12 consecutive months, including a projected 4 percent to 7 percent increase for November numbers to be announced later this week, and La Placa expects December lodging taxes to show that trend continuing.
December 2009 was a very strong month for tourism, with lodging tax revenues up 22.8 percent over 2008, but La Placa cited several reasons why he believes the tax tallies will show December 2010 was even better.
“We had a general rebound in tourism and occupancy rates, attendance at the cyclocross event held the first two weeks of December was up slightly over last year, and we got strong reports from Mt. Bachelor ski resort over the holidays,” La Placa said.
“We see a very positive outlook for Bend tourism. It continues to outpace the state and nation. We are very optimistic Bend tourism is going to continue to do well,” he said.