What is shoulder season?

The period between peak season and low season is called shoulder season. Hotels are inherently seasonal businesses. No matter where you are in the world, certain times of year will attract more visitors than others, whether it’s due to weather, events, or holidays and school breaks.

For most hotels the shoulder seasons are during spring and autumn, between the busy summer and the quieter winter (although the opposite is true for places like ski resorts).

Shoulder season represents a transition, so it can be difficult for an independent hotelier to know exactly how to maximise business during these times of year. Let’s take a look at everything you need to know.

A tool to help shoulder the admin load

Built for small, independent hotels, the Little Hotelier hotel management system is designed to relieve you of the legwork so you can focus on winning more business!

Learn more

Why is it called shoulder season?

In terms of what shoulder season means, it is believed that it takes its name from a bell curve. If you superimposed a human into a bell curve, the head would form the peak, the waist would form the base, and the shoulder would be found somewhere in-between.

How does shoulder season affect small hotels?

Understanding the seasonality of your business – the peaks and troughs that tend to define each year – is critical for every hotelier, as this allows you to plan for each period well in advance. Proper planning ensures you maximise revenue throughout the year.

You should aim to make hay while the sun shines during peak season, develop discount and long-term stay strategies during low season, and figure out the most profitable way to approach shoulder season.

Shoulder season across the globe

When exactly is shoulder season? It depends on where you are in the world. Shoulder season in Europe is going to be different from other regions.

Shoulder season in Italy

Most travel professionals consider Rome shoulder season to be the months of April, May, September and October.

Shoulder season in Hawaii

Shoulder season in Hawaii is generally considered March-May and September-November, although early September can be popular due to Spring Break.

Shoulder season in Greece

With a long summer – at least by European standards – shoulder season in Greece is condensed into the months of March, April, October and November. 

Shoulder season in Iceland

Iceland’s shoulder season is perhaps the shortest shoulder season in Europe, as the long days of summer quickly transition into the almost as popular winter months. The period is generally limited to Mid-May to mid-June and September to mid-October.

Shoulder season in Colorado

Another destination that attracts guests all year round, shoulder season in Colorado runs from April to May then October to November, at which point the skiing season begins.

Shoulder season in Montana

One of the larger shoulder seasons in the US is found in Montana. Popular over summer, the state then stays rather quiet between September and the winter holidays, and again between February and May.

How to determine your shoulder season

You can work out your own destination’s shoulder season by identifying the shoulder months between your peaks and troughs:

  • To find your high season, consider things like your climate, local events and attractions, and periods when you can charge more for your rooms.
  • To find your low season, think of when rooms are most difficult to fill, and when your rates are lowest.

Your shoulder season will be the periods, usually 2-3 months, that sit between these peaks and troughs.

Top ways to make the most of shoulder season

How do you make the most of the strange time that is shoulder season? Here are a few strategies, tips and techniques that might help to drive bookings and revenue during these interim periods.

Create special packages

A ‘shoulder season special’ might be all the encouragement a guest might need to visit your hotel. Sell the shoulder season travel dream, particularly the times just before or after peak season, when conditions are good but crowds are small.

Collaborate with local businesses

The success of other hospitality businesses in your area is directly tied to the success of your hotel in bringing tourist dollars in, so consider collaborating with local restaurants, bars and tour companies to create deals and discounts that will lure more visitors in.

Enhance amenities

What are the benefits of shoulder season? It’s a great opportunity to enhance your property, and when these additions, renovations or refurbishments are complete you can use all that is shiny and new to sell more rooms.

Stay competitive with pricing

Shoulder period is the most volatile time for hotel room pricing, as your room rates must gradually transition from the lows of low season to the highs of high season (or vice versa) while remaining competitive against the rest of the market. Little Hotelier’s Insights tool can tell you precisely what your competitors are charging at any given moment.

Sell widely across online channels

The more places your hotel shows up online, the more likely people are to see it, and the more likely you are to get bookings. Create listings on all the major booking channels used by your target audience, and create profiles on all the social media platforms that your ideal guest spends time on.

By Dean Elphick

Dean is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist of Little Hotelier, the all-in-one software solution purpose-built to make the lives of small accommodation providers easier. Dean has made writing and creating content his passion for the entirety of his professional life, which includes more than six years at Little Hotelier. Through content, Dean aims to provide education, inspiration, assistance, and, ultimately, value for small accommodation businesses looking to improve the way they run their operations (and live their life).