Group sales help Broadmoor finish year on high note

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The Broadmoor, a barometer of sorts for the convention and meeting business in Colorado Springs, closed out 2010 with group room-night sales significantly higher than expected.

The hotel had braced for a decline in group business for the year but instead, thanks to a recovering, if unsteady, economy, was able to post results in line with 2009 figures.

“We are seeing a return of business,” the hotel’s VP of sales and marketing, John Washko, said. “It’s not at the same price-point as earlier, but volume is coming back.”

Feeling more confident, The Broadmoor has budgeted a 10 percent increase in group occupancy in 2011, Washko said.

With 744 rooms, The Broadmoor is the largest hotel in the city. Its performance is closely tracked by its competition as an indication of how well the hotel industry can expect to do.

And 2011 looks promising for the resort.

Although locals often think of the Broadmoor as a place for leisure visits, the lion’s share of its business — about 70 percent — is actually in the group and convention segment.

“That’s how we will succeed or fail, in group business. It’s our bread-and-butter,” Washko said.

Although the hotel has a 60,000-square-foot ballroom, which can seat up to 6,500, most of its group business, percentage-wise, comes from small groups — those that book between 10 and 25 rooms. It has a total of 185,000 square feet of meeting and convention space.

The hotel in recent years has hosted 500 to 600 groups per year, selling about 110,000 group room-nights. Each year, the resort also hosts several large groups, such as the annual Space Symposium, which draws nearly 10,000 attendees.

After the tourism industry saw the huge declines of 2009, most hotels in the region prepared for an equally bad 2010, slashing budgets accordingly.

But the year started out moderately, with a surprising amount of ground gained by summer. As a result, most hotels exceeded their budget expectations. The Broadmoor did as well, coming in 20 percent over its budgeted group room-nights sales this year.

“We had a nice pick up (in business) for the year,” Washko said.

Washko, however, acknowledges “it was a soft budget,” so there’s no celebrating quite yet.

Beyond a 10-percent bump in group occupancy for 2011, what he’d like to see next year is overall occupancy rising 3.5 percent and more advance bookings.

Before the AIG, executive-spending scandal of 2007, corporations would typically book convention and meeting business 12 to 18 months out. They had to, or rooms wouldn’t be available at the rates or times of year they wanted.

The AIG scandal quashed that, making it more difficult for hotels to plan ahead. Now short-term bookings have become the norm.

In 2009, economic conditions were so bad, cancellations were common. And when corporations did sign contracts, they often arrived with fewer people and needed significantly fewer room- nights, Washko said.

That started to change in 2010. In fact, the opposite sometimes happened. Meeting planners booked conservatively, and when groups arrived, occasionally they needed, say, 120 rooms instead of the 100 they had reserved.

Washko said that until the economy strengthens further, the “booking window” will remain compressed. These days, short-term bookings at some properties are about 60 to 90 days out.

But with more positive signs accruing, next year could see the return of longer booking windows and the turning point for The Broadmoor and many others in the hotel business.

Rebecca Tonn can be reached at rebecca.tonn@csbj.com or 719-329-5229. Friend her on Facebook.