The big snow event of late February affected hotel and vacation rental occupancy rates in Bend but didn’t keep skiers and snowboarders off the slopes of Mt. Bachelor.
Bend hotels were about 50 percent occupied in February, down 8.4 percent from the same period the year before, according to travel research company STR. The average daily room rate was up 2.9 percent to $104.85 a night. That’s because through the President’s Day weekend, Bend drew visitors, but once the big snow hit in late February cancellations came in caused by closed mountain passes, downed trees and severe weather in the Seattle area, said Kevney Dugan, CEO of the tourism marketing agency Visit Bend.
The trend is similar for vacation rentals, which normally are busier than hotels in winter months, according to AirDNA data, a vacation rental data analytics firm.
February vacation rental occupancy was 44 percent compared to 47.9 percent during the same period in 2018. But the average daily rate for vacation rentals was up 2.6 percent to $195.25, according to AirDNA data.
A record snowfall — the biggest in at least 118 years in Central Oregon — blanketed the area in late February, closing schools, government offices and Redmond Airport. The snow, which dumped 42 inches on Mt. Bachelor ski area over a 48-hour period, also caused some booking cancellations at area hotels.
“Occupancy was probably tracking on par with last year through the President’s Day weekend, but dropped off because of the snow,” Dugan said. “Mother Nature threw us a curveball.”
That curveball included the cancellation of the Oregon Middle School Girls Basketball Tournament the first weekend in March, which meant that Davis Smith’s Residence Inn in Bend went from sold out to 50 percent occupied.
“That hurt,” said Smith, the general manager. “It was Central Oregon-wide.”
But now that spring break is around the corner, from the slopes of Mt. Bachelor to the bar stools of brewpubs, businesses around town catering to visitors are hoping to draw more visitors.
Drew Jackson, Mt. Bachelor’s director of sales and marketing, said the mountain had the busiest February since it started keeping track of attendance in 2005.
March looks to be strong in terms of visitors to the mountain, Jackson said.
“This year’s snowpack is healthy,” Jackson said. “February and the first part of March were exceptionally cool, and it helped create outstanding snow quality. Skiers and snowboarders are not the ones canceling. They’re the ones most used to winter driving conditions.”
Mt. Bachelor is a draw to Central Oregon during the winter months, which typically are not the busy tourism months, Dugan said. Summer is traditionally the big tourism draw as visitors come to experience the outdoors, Dugan said.
Looking back at 2017 data on winter visitor demographics, Dugan said 64 percent of those who came to Bend were drawn to outdoor recreation, leisure, sightseeing and pubs. About 22 percent come to visit friends and family.
Those visitors tend to decide to make the trek with little lead time, Dugan said.
“What we know is that winter booking window is heck of a lot shorter than in the summer,” he said. “In the winter our skiing is fantastic.”
In the winter a hotel can have 30 rooms available on a Friday morning, but by the end of the day be sold out, Smith said.
“The true success around Bend as a destination is that we’re not a one-trick pony. Spring break will perk us up,” Dugan said. “Early March we were still digging out.”
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