Traditional Flathead Valley hotels and other accommodations have been crowded this season despite a shortage of staff to clean rooms and attend to guests – and despite the proliferation of short-term rentals, which also book at record rates.
“We are living in a banner year,” said Dylan Boyle, executive director of the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau, also known as Explore Whitefish.
The June occupancy rate for traditional accommodation in Whitefish was 80%, according to bureau survey data. This is an increase of 7.4 percentage points from the pre-pandemic record set in June 2019.
It’s a similar story in Kalispell, where hotels and motels were 77% full in June – up 16% from June 2019, according to Diane Medler, executive director of the Kalispell Convention and Visitors Bureau, or Discover Kalispell. .
Medler said the trend has continued, with hotel occupancy rates in Kalispell averaging 86% in the first 18 days of July. And, she said, those numbers don’t reflect actual room availability as some properties have rooms that are closed due to understaffing.
“So for rooms available for rent, the occupancy rate would be closer to 95% or more,” Medler said.
“For hotels it’s been a very busy season and they are serving all of these customers with a staff shortage,” she said. “For some properties this means that for some nights they have to put some rooms down because they don’t have the staff to clean them.”
Explore the Whitefish projects, the occupancy rate for traditional accommodation will be around 85% to 90% over the next three weeks. The office’s latest trends report suggests occupancy will drop to around 70% by mid-August.
In July 2019, the occupancy rate for traditional Whitefish accommodations was 68% and in August of the same year it was 60%.
Businesses should always anticipate a pronounced “shoulder season” from October through May, Boyle said. In past years, the off-season occupancy rate for traditional accommodation has peaked at around 50% and hit a low of around 30%.
RESERVATIONS FOR short-term vacation rentals have also set records in the valley.
In a ranking released Wednesday by Airbnb, the company identified Whitefish as one of the most popular outdoor destinations on its platform.
“A Whitefish host can earn over $ 4,500 per month by sharing an entire house with four guests and their vehicle on Turo,” the company reported.
Average revenue for Airbnb hosts for the summer months was $ 2,300 from 2018 to 2020, but that figure is expected to jump 60%, to $ 3,700, this summer.
Boyle, along with Explore Whitefish, estimated that the city now has around 1,100 short-term rental units listed on sites like Airbnb and Vrbo, with an average of just over two bedrooms per unit. That’s about double the number of hotel and motel rooms in the city, he said.
Medler, along with Discover Kalispell, said the city has 1,936 hotel and motel rooms. She estimated that there were approximately 400 short-term rental units in Kalispell with an average of three bedrooms each, which equates to approximately 1,200 bedrooms.
Short-term rentals are filling up at record rates, although there are many more than in previous years.
In Whitefish, the June occupancy rate for short-term rentals was 66%, up over 50% from June 2019. In Kalispell, the June 2021 occupancy rate was 80%, according to the reception desks. (Data for June 2019 was not immediately available for Kalispell).
Boyle noted that the proliferation of short-term rentals has been accused of siphoning off some hotel business and contributing to a shortage of affordable housing in the valley. Short-term rentals were identified as the priority issue resulting from Whitefish’s growth in its Sustainable Tourism Management Plan, adopted in fall 2020.
THE SURGE in June, the tours coincided with the first full month of Glacier National Park’s new reservation system for the Going-to-the-Sun Highway Corridor.
Before the park implemented the ticketing system, many local business owners were concerned about the effects it might have on tourism in the area. Some wondered if visitors would divert their trips elsewhere if they couldn’t get tickets.
Boyle said that did not happen.
“There is no indication that there is a negative impact from the ticket entry system,” he said.
Boyle and Medler both pointed out that it had been years since their organizations had marketed Whitefish and Kalispell to tourists during the summer. People come from all over to see the park, whatever.
“For us in the summer, it’s all about educating the visitors,” Boyle said.