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Winter Visitors Seek Flagstaff Experience

Snowbowl 4Despite being one of only a handful of winter destinations in Arizona, Flagstaff winters are nearly always the slowest tourism period for the city’s businesses – particularly hotels.

For the lodging and resort industry in Flagstaff, weather plays a key role in determining guest volumes. And with an unseasonably dry January and February, business felt slower than average. However, hotel managers like Sean McMahan with the Hotel Monte Vista understand that winter will always be a slow season in a city mainly known for its direct route to the Grand Canyon.

“Winter is the slower season,” McMahan said. “It’s not that it’s tougher to get through, it’s just the slower season and we’re prepared for that.”

Pat Weibe, the owner of ComfiCottages, has been renting vacation homes to visitors in Flagstaff for more than 20 years. Like McMahan, she has always known the winter season to be slow but sustainable. Weibe finds that without snow, people who visit Phoenix are more likely to take a day trip to Flagstaff for the fresh air and pine trees without having to worry about driving in winter conditions.

“This month is a little slow because we’re a little low on snow, but I find that it all evens out,” Weibe said. “If we don’t have a lot of snow, we have more people that are vacationing in Phoenix who want to come up to Flagstaff for a few days. If there was too much snow they would be afraid to drive up.”

According to Drury Inn Hotel General Manager Jeff Theiss, the lack of snow affects business the most on the weekends, when fewer families are visiting to play in the snow.

“I can’t say our weekday business has changed that much without the snow, but our weekend business is really starting to take an impact,” Theiss said. “I think that’s where most people notice it the most.”

However, winter business seems to be slightly more consistent than previous years now that Arizona Snowbowl produces snow and remains open even during dry periods.

“Now that they can successfully make snow at Snowbowl, that has an impact on us because it gives people a chance to use that snow area for the day,” McMahan said. “The extra snow helps attract business during the week. We’re always busy on the weekend – and we’re grateful for that – but it’s during the week that we notice the difference when there is no or little snow. Just like everybody else who loves snow, we love snow, too—and it’s good for business.”

Arizona Snowbowl experienced a record-breaking December, according to Jason Stratton, the resort’s marketing director. He believes snowmaking is a great way to drive business to companies throughout the city and help make the industry less dependent on weather conditions.

“This is a perfect example of why snowmaking was worth the $15 million investment we made over the past year and a half,” Stratton said. “With our unseasonably low natural snowfall this season, hotels and guests can still go out and promote winter vacations, despite the lack of natural snowfall. Now, hotels can actually promote these getaways and customers can actually plan their trip ahead of time with confidence.”

When Stratton markets Snowbowl, he said he always has the rest of Flagstaff in mind.

“Really, the goal is not just to market Snowbowl, but to market Flagstaff as a winter destination,” Stratton said. “When we do that properly, then it’s a whole experience.”

People visit Flagstaff in the winter for more than just the snow. Many people visit the city for its laid-back atmosphere, stunning scenery and trails, and lively downtown scene. The North Pole Experience also brings a significant number of visitors in during the holiday season.

“People come up to us from Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and even Albuquerque to just get away,” McMahan said. “They just love our historic downtown experience. We have this unique energy in Flagstaff and people respond to it. So that’s the biggest attraction – even bigger than snow.”

Joanne Hudson, the public relations specialist for the Flagstaff City Visitors Bureau, said the CVB team has been working hard to market Flagstaff as a winter destination to a few key areas throughout the Southwest.

“We’ve done more outreach and marketing for the winter season, and we’ve specifically targeted the Las Vegas market with winter messaging,” Hudson said. “So we’ve been actively reaching out and marketing more in those areas and at the end of the season we will see how the numbers turn out.” FBN


By Maria DiCosola

Flagstaff Business News


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