Mountain resorts in Utah and across the West filled 6 to 7 percent more rooms last month than in January 2010, sustaining the industry's slow-but-steady growth since the depths of the recession.
Companies that manage 70,000 rooms in Utah resorts reported a 61.7 percent occupancy rate in January, up 7.1 percent from a year earlier, said the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Lodging Report.
Those figures are consistent with the findings of another Denver company, the Mountain Travel Research Program, which reported a 5.8 percent growth rate at more than a dozen major Western mountain destinations in Utah, Colorado, California and Oregon. January was the fifth straight month of positive year-over-year numbers.
That lengthening trend, other signs of economic recovery and abundant snow in most parts of the country "have provided a solid foundation for a respectable, although not spectacular, winter season," said Mountain Travel director Ralf Garrison.
"The flat rates show that guests are still insisting on deals, so overall lodging revenues aren't likely to be as strong as hoped," he added.
Garrison said that from August through January, average nightly rates were relatively flat, up just 0.4 percent.
Rocky Mountain Lodging Report figures for Utah resorts during January were not as good. Hoteliers were able to charge an average of $255 per night last month, almost $9 less than a year earlier. Garrison predicted the rest of the ski season will remain a "buyer's market," noting that advance bookings for vacations this month were up a modest 1.4 percent.
Outside the resort communities, Logan-area hotels showed a strong resurgence from a year ago, while most of Salt Lake County's hotels, which account for almost half the rooms in the lodging report's statewide total, reported a solid occupancy increase of 3.6 percent as compared with January 2010. Those gains more than offset monthly declines in Ogden, Provo and Davis County.
In addition, the average rate at Salt Lake County hotels was up $8 a night, compared with a year earlier.
Statewide, occupancy levels increased last month to 54.9 percent from 52.5 percent in January 2010.
Julie Hollist, director of the Cache Valley Visitors Bureau, said part of Logan's jump can be attributed to the presence of hundreds of workers building the Ruby Pipeline.
Under construction since early last August, the $3 billion pipeline cuts through Cache County along its 680-mile route to deliver natural gas from Wyoming wellheads to customers in Nevada and Oregon.
But Hollist said the temporary boost from that construction project has been supplemented with an increase in family and individual travel. "People are relaxing. They're ready to take vacations. They're tired of pinching all of their pennies and are eager to take a trip."