In 22 years running the Sundance Inn and 11 years operating Inn on the Creek, Hailey Morton Levinson’s family never shortened the 30-day cancellation requirement for refunds.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the inn has shortened the window to 72 hours, and though it isn’t seeing lots of people take advantage of that, prospective guests do want to know how easily they can change plans without losing money.
“It’s all about, ‘Can I get this back if your state shuts down or my state shuts down and I can’t get to you?’” Levinson said.
Other properties around town have also adjusted their cancellation rules to bolster travelers’ confidence. After a dismal May and slow start to June some also reduced rates, whether across the board or in negotiations with individual customers.
“There’s more discounting than I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said Steve Meadows of the Town Square Inns group, which includes the Elk Country Inn, the Cowboy Village Resort, the Antler Inn and the 49er Inn and Suites.
Sadek Darwiche at Hotel Jackson said his property offers flexibility on cancellations, including credits for future stays, but though there are people shopping for discounts, his hotel has held firm on rates.
“Our philosophy is to take care of guests rather than try to pack the hotel,” he said.
Whatever strategies hotels are taking, they’re seeing a surge in customers. Inn on the Creek looks like it will be full over the Fourth of July weekend, Levinson said, and other properties are projecting high occupancy too.
And the numbers are a moving target. Meadows and other hoteliers are seeing a lot of short-advance and even day-of bookings. That’s backed up by what the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce is hearing from prospective visitors calling in for information.
“It’s been a lot of ‘I’m coming next week,’” chamber President and CEO Anna Olson said. “It’s all short term.”
The chamber’s recent straw poll of 10 downtown properties showed a 73.9% occupancy booked for this past weekend, and Olson said Monday that the actual number will probably turn out to be more than 80%.
For the July Fourth weekend the straw poll put occupancy at 77.1%, but Olson believes that will also be higher.
“We’ll definitely be in the high 80s, 90% if not more,” she said.
The swell has answered a big question in the community, she said: Will the return of demand look like a line or a hockey stick?
“It has returned like a hockey stick,” Olson said. “We have returned to the same volume as last year within two or three weeks.”
Of course, there are still worries about coronavirus cases increasing. Darwiche noted that Hotel Jackson guests are being “gracious” about wearing masks in public spaces and maintaining social distancing.
Darwiche said he is “cautiously optimistic” about summer as a whole and believes the local hotel industry has a chance to not only survive but thrive.
“If everyone behaves responsibly,” he said.