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Lodging gains bode well for travel industries

Thanks to lower fuel prices and mild weather, the region's lodging industry saw solid gains in January — possibly foreshadowing the beginning of a profitable year for Southern Oregon tourism.

While snow sport-related operations took a hit this winter, rafting companies and outfitters are reporting strong advanced bookings for 2015.

"There is some pent-up demand for travel, and lower gas prices make a huge difference when people are planning those trips," said Carolyn Hill, CEO of Travel Southern Oregon. "We've had unbelievable spring-like weather and haven't had many road closures associated with winter. Combined with those gas prices, it's opened up the possibilities for people who wanted to hike."

Monthly figures compiled by Smith Travel Research in Hendersonville, Tenn., show the whole state got out of the blocks fast, with every region showing gains in occupancy, rates, revenue per available room, demand and room revenue.

Southern Oregon's five-county region saw a 9.9 percent jump in occupancy to 40.6 percent during January, topping the statewide 9.1 percent gain. Its 10.3 percent room demand surpassed the 10.1 percent statewide average.

The revenue per available room climbed 11.9 percent to $29.67, while average room rates edged up 1.8 percent to $73.03.

"Rates are finally beginning to recover back to where they were in 2008," Hill said.

At the same time travelers have been hitting the road, summer vacationers have been booking river trips.  

Lowell Pratt of Rogue River Raft Trips and Morrison's Lodge said the five outfitters he works with have all seen booking jumps.

"My own bookings are up 210 percent from January through February," Pratt said. "We did quite poorly in bookings to December and were running behind previous years. But whatever deficit we had from June to December, it has caught up."

Pratt isn't quite sure what triggered the turnaround.

"People get motivated to book at different times," he said. "Usually rafting is July and August, and fishing books August to October. On Labor Days and other big times, we can get bookings two years early. I wish I had my crystal ball."

Will Volpert, owner of Indigo Creek Outfitters, said day-trip booking is up slightly. However, multiday Rogue River trips are significantly up for this time of year, nearly 100 percent ahead of 2014.

"Last year, March was our largest booking month, so I'll have a much clearer idea of where we are in one month," Volpert said. "This time of year, folks are mainly booking for large groups — schools and wedding parties. Small-party reservations really don't pick up until April, and the majority of our small-party reservations are made within three weeks of the trip date."

The region's travel marketers say they have seen a shift in long-range planning, but demand is picking up. 

"Planning cycles for conferences have gotten shorter," Hill said. "Many years ago you would see bookings two or three years out. That's changed, but meeting space is doing really well in Jackson County."

Annie Jenkins, who heads up Travel Medford, said business travel has bounced back as well.

"Business travel dropped off for quite a bit," Jenkins said. "But it's coming back because face-to-face meetings are very crucial."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.