Friday, January 8, 2010

Sun Valley discount riles hotel owners

Some say they canít compete with offer of free lift tickets


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

Dan Ross, general manager of the Bald Mountain Lodge in Warm Springs, said customers canceled their reservations the day that Sun Valley Resort announced its "free lift ticket for every night of your stay."

Ross said cancellations just keep coming since the deal is offered from Dec. 19 to March 25. The resort usually offers the special only early and late in the season.

Sun Valley is giving a free lift ticket for every night stayed in a standard or medium room at a cost of $94.50 per night per person. But two people must be booked to a room, bringing the total to $189 per night. An adult, one-day lift ticket normally costs $82.

The controversy is that Sun Valley Resort, the area's major hotel operator, also controls the ski mountain and its lift tickets, which all hotels in the area rely on to bring in customers, and the resort is leveraging that control to make an offer that no others can.

Ross said the resort offers area hotels a 15 percent discount per lift ticket to package with rooms, but at a cost of $1,000 per season.

He said customers keep calling wanting a deal equivalent to the resort's special.

"We'd have to give free rooms away," Ross said. "We can't compete any way you look at it."

Cindy Forgeon, co-owner and manager of the Kentwood Lodge in Ketchum, said she's "certain" her business is also hurting as a result of Sun Valley's special.

"But it's a free market," she said. "They're looking after their interests."

However, Forgeon said she wonders if the resort is breaking its Bald Mountain lease agreement with the U.S. Forest Service by "leveraging" the mountain to sell rooms.

But Joe Miczulski, Forest Service winter sports specialist, said the lease doesn't restrict offering lift tickets with rooms.

"As far as hotel business is concerned, we don't get involved," Miczulski said.

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Forgeon said her concerns are shared by most hotel owners, and the resort is trying to bring down the boil.

She said hotel owners had a meeting Tuesday to discuss the issue, but a resolution has yet to come.

Clarion Inn owner Peter Lewis said another meeting would take place sometime Thursday among all hoteliers and at least one representative from Sun Valley Resort.

"This is a big deal," Lewis said. "We're all trying to work together. And we all, including Sun Valley, are getting less customers because travel is down."

Resort spokesman Jack Sibbach said the resort is doing "OK" filling rooms and argued that the resort isn't giving away tickets. He said the lift-ticket cost is wrapped into the price of the room.

"When we say free lift ticket, it's just a marketing tool," he said.

But $189 a night including free lift tickets is far from normal room prices of $219 to $299, depending on the date. Sibbach said the resort doesn't want to "drop prices," but the special is being extended throughout the season in an effort to fill rooms.

"We're getting people here," he said, "but aren't making much money."

Lewis said hotel owners are also upset because they feel the resort gets "unfair play" by the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau.

"We advertise all the promotions that are put up," said chamber Executive Director Carol Waller. "Deals are what's driving business in this economy."

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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