Park City lodging occupancy projected to crater during Sundance

Park City lodging occupancy projected to crater during Sundance

Park City lodging occupancy is projected to crater during the Sundance Film Festival, a mid-December reading released by the Park City Chamber/Bureau shows.
Park Record file photo

Lodging occupancy in the Park City area is projected to crater during the Sundance Film Festival in January and early February, a mid-December reading released by the Park City Chamber/Bureau shows, an especially gloomy outlook for what is typically one of the best stretches of the year for the industry.

The numbers were compiled on Dec. 15 and are based on a survey of 16 properties representing a range of traditional lodging options like economy hotels, luxury hotels and short-term vacation rentals. Bookings or cancellations since Dec. 15 are not reflected in the report.

Occupancy on Jan. 28, the opening day of Sundance, is projected to hit 23%. The number is expected to reach a festival high on Feb. 3, the last day, at 28%.

The numbers are down dramatically from the projections a year ago for Sundance in 2020. At that time, the forecast called for 94% occupancy on the opening day of the festival, with the number never dipping below 50% during Sundance. The actual numbers in 2020 largely tracked or beat the Dec. 15 projections.

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It has been expected for months the lodging numbers during Sundance would fall sharply from the previous year as the spread of the novel coronavirus continues. Sundance has crafted plans for the festival in 2021 with a heavy online presence as well as venues across North America. The festival will be based in Park City, but there will be just one live venue in the community — The Ray Theater — and little other Sundance-related activity is expected.

The projected drop in lodging will have broader impacts on the Park City economy during what is normally an especially lucrative period in the community. The restaurant and transportation industries, as examples, are closely tied to lodging.

Jennifer Wesselhoff, the president and CEO of the Chamber/Bureau, said in prepared responses to a Park Record inquiry the “impacts to the city and the entire state will be significant.”

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“These impacts will be felt at almost every level of our community — from decreased jobs, decreased visitor spending, decreased rental income for merchants on Main Street to major decreases in state and local taxes which contribute to our quality of life and services,” she said.

Wesselhoff said projections like the ones in the Dec. 15 report were expected with a festival that has been scaled back. The Chamber/Bureau hopes skiers and snowboarders will opt for Park City during the dates of Sundance, making up for some of the drop. In a typical year, skiers and snowboarders are largely crowded out of the community during Sundance as Hollywood takes up large blocs of accommodations.

“We anticipate that without Sundance visitors, our visitation levels will most likely look like an average week in early February – rather than the big spike we would normally see this time of year from the event,” she said.

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Wesselhoff, meanwhile, said the Chamber/Bureau “can certainly expect significantly less visitors to Park City during the typically bustling Sundance timeframe, but we are hoping for a stronger than typical demand over what are usually slower ski season weeks.”

“This can be attributed to travelers having greater work/school flexibility, and therefore are deciding to take their ski trips in periods with lower hotel rates. We will continue to work hard to help keep our businesses in business this winter season,” she said.

Festival attendees in 2020 spent nearly $63.4 million on lodging, according to an economic report conducted for Sundance organizers. Lodging was, by a wide margin, the largest category of spending. Rates during Sundance are some of the highest of the year across the various segments of the lodging industry.

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