Colorado Resorts Increasingly Seek International Business
The ski industry runs on snow, some resorts more than others. Ski towns like Aspen and Vail still get business in spite of poor snow.
Last year while many resorts took a huge hit, Aspen did well because of one type of guest: the international visitor. This sought after tourist books longer vacations, spends more money and cares less about poor snow than other guests. As drought conditions persist this winter, ski resorts are banking on business from overseas.
On a wet December evening in Aspen, Chris Foyle and his family are strolling downtown. They just arrived from Monaco, and they’re popping in and out of restaurants and shops festooned with Christmas lights. Foyle says they’ve been vacationing in Aspen for years.
"We first came here in March of 1988, we loved it, we liked the atmosphere and everything that goes on here, and we liked the skiing of course, which is on the whole, better than in Europe," he says.
Ski resorts dream about visitors like the Foyle family. They typically stay for three or four weeks at a time in both winter and summer:
And when the Foyles arrive in Aspen, they bring along their pocketbooks.
"The international guest spends more while they’re here, and they stay longer and they book further in advance so for those reasons the international guest is at the top of the economic totem pole," says Ralf Garrison.
He tracks market conditions at ski resorts for the Mountain Travel Research Program. He says resorts spend millions on overseas ad campaigns specifically designed to get visitors like the Foyle family to the mountains.
He says international guests often book vacations despite poor snow, keeping resorts afloat in particularly challenging years, like last year:
"Skier days were down quite a bit, Aspen did better on skier days and destination visitation because it has more of a destination clientele," says Garrison.
Aspen bucked last season’s ski industry trend, maintaining steady business compared to the year before, while skier visits at resorts across the country dropped 16 percent.
"International visitors are always important to us, they always have been, but over the last five or ten years, that importance has been increasing," says Jeff Hanle, spokesman for The Aspen Skiing Company.
He says the company works with travel agencies abroad, so when an Australian decides to book a trip, their travel agent points to deals specifically in Aspen.
"We have an international sales team out there, they travel 15/20 countries around the world, mostly prior to the winter season...I think it’s no secret that our biggest markets, just go out on the slopes in January and February, and you’ll hear a lot of Australian accents, you’ll hear Portuguese from Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Germany and the U.K., all of those are the top markets," he says.
Aspen’s gondola plaza feels like a model United Nations these days, with every language and clothing style represented.
Aspen is among a handful of Colorado resorts that attract this international clientele. Resort analyst Ralf Garrison says for some resorts, overseas business makes up 20 percent of their overall mix.
"Most of the business is domestic business, some of the larger brands that have been around the longest and have the biggest reputations have relatively more international business."
And the reputation of Aspen, along with Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs and Telluride attract this kind of clientele.
Back in downtown Aspen, Chris Foyle from Monaco is preparing for a jam-packed holiday with his family.
"Some of us will be skiing or snowboarding, others will be mooching around town, going to parties, and going to restaurants, a lot of reading and writing...a mixture of things."
Foyle and his family will be spending money along the way. And that’s exactly what the resort that spent so much money to get Foyle here in the first place, wants.