Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content For some, holiday parties making a comeback

WAYNE HEILMAN Updated: December 5, 2012 at 12:00 am

Colorado Springs employers seem to be less in a partying mood this year than the rest of the nation, likely a reflection of the city’s weak job market.

Local hotel and restaurant industry officials report that bookings for holiday parties this year are generally flat compared with a year ago, though catering bookings are up and some hotels are reporting gains.

Nationwide, more employers are planning holiday parties this year, according to a survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.; 83 percent of the about 100 human resource professionals surveyed reported their companies are scheduling parties this year, up from 68 percent last year. The survey also found 17 percent also plan to spend more money on their holiday party than they did last year with nearly two-thirds planning on hiring a caterer or outside service to put on the event.

“With hiring still relatively weak, employers are basically asking existing workers to do more with less. Strong profits and rising productivity numbers suggest that workers are in fact delivering on that request. What better way to reward this hard work than with a holiday party,” said Rick Cobb, executive vice president of Challenger, Gray.

Catering bookings for this holiday season are the strongest since the 2008 recession with a large number of corporate events for the first time in several years, said Kathy Dreiling, co-owner of The Picnic Basket, Cravings and Buffalo Gals catering companies in Colorado Springs.

“It is just like the old days and I am thankful for that,” said Dreiling, who estimated that bookings for the three companies this year are up 25 percent from a year ago. “We have 25 to 30 events a day scheduled for this weekend and our bookings also are better on weekdays. We have more than regained the business lost during the recession and feel like we are on the way to being healthy again.”

Steve Ducoff, executive director of the Pikes Peak Lodging Association, which represents more than 30 local motels, hotels and bed and breakfast inns, said bookings this year for most of the group’s members are little changed from a year ago. He said bookings likely are a reflection of the local job market, where the city’s unemployment remains well above the national and state averages at 9.2 percent.

Officials at The Broadmoor and Antlers Hilton say bookings are up from a year ago and ahead of their projections. Bookings are down at the Crowne Plaza — likely because the hotel ended up in receivership earlier this year — but are still ahead of projections as well.

Dennis Lesko, vice president of marketing at The Broadmoor, said party bookings are up 20 percent from a year ago and ticket sales are strong for the resort’s holiday show, which runs Dec. 14-23.

Tom Walker, sales director for the Antlers Hilton, said party bookings are up this year about 5 percent from last year and spending is also up from a year ago. He said the downtown hotel also is selling more rooms to party guests who don’t want to drive home after a holiday party, many booked as part of a holiday party package.

Most local restaurants are optimistic about their holiday party bookings this year despite little change from a year ago, said Tony Leahy, president of the Pikes Peak chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association and co-owner of The Famous steakhouse downtown.

“We have bookings for parties every night but Dec. 18 at the Patty Jewett Clubhouse, which is more than last year,” said Leahy, who operates the restaurant as a concessionaire for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department. “Most restaurant owners I talked to say they have a lot of bookings for the weekends, but still have openings during the week. That isn’t much of a change from last year.”

One of the year’s largest parties, for 900 USAA employees and guests, is set for Dec. 15 at Cheyenne Mountain Resort. The financial giant said the event is intended to “thank and recognize our employees for their commitment to providing exceptional member service throughout the year,” a company spokeswoman said Tuesday in an email message.

Contact Wayne Heilman:
 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

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