Boulder, Colo. Dec. 18, 2001--Skiers haven't let the bumps in the travel industry stop them from getting to the slopes this winter—they're just waiting to finalize their plans. Immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks, reservations at the nation's ski resorts were down as much as 50 percent compared to this time last year, but those numbers are now on the rise as snow begins to fall at resorts around the U.S.
The initial downturn after the attacks and the unseasonably warm temperatures that followed caused concern for most North American resorts. Many have offered new discounts and package deals to boost business, while others have eliminated employee pay raises and bonuses to curb spending. But now that it's beginning to look more like winter, most resorts are optimistic about the coming season and think it will be business as usual.
Jackson Hole experienced a 20-30 percent drop in reservations right after the attacks, but that number is changing daily according to Anna Olson, communications director at the Wyoming resort. "Jackson Hole has a product that's very much a part of people's annual life and people don't want to break the trend," Olson said. "We're fortunate to have a customer base that's addicted to skiing."
People who take winter vacations are in a "wait and see mode," said Kelly Ladyga, spokesperson for Vail Resorts, which was 23 percent off on bookings at properties owned by Vail's four resorts according to the Oct. 17 fourth-quarter earnings call report. "Skiers tend to be a more adventurous group. They still plan on skiing, it's just a matter of when," she said.
Ladyga said people are waiting before they make final plans so they can find the best deals on the Internet and also because they are making their plans much closer to their departure date. "We remain cautiously optimistic and we see several bright spots this season," Ladyga added.
A recent survey by the Colorado Tourism Office and Colorado Ski Country USA supports this "wait and see" trend. The first two waves of the three-part survey found that American and international travelers are less likely to cancel or postpone their winter trips than they are to wait to finalize plans.
"We're seeing a lot of people sitting on the sidelines," said Bill Jensen, chairman of the Colorado Tourism Office board. He said this is due primarily to concerns with the economy, then safety, deals and the snow.
Jensen said people have to be sure they will still have a job before they can plan a vacation. "Consumer confidence is the underlying ingredient of people's propensity to travel," he said.
The winter tourism survey also reports that skiing and cruise vacations are likely to be the least influenced markets, while city and travel abroad vacations are more likely to be impacted.
Kristen Rust, communications director at CSCUSA, said this is because skiers tend to be risk takers. "We like to think of skiers and snowboarders as very resilient people and we hope that, due to this characteristic, they will keep their travel plans," Rust told skimag.com. She said the snow will be the message getting people to the resorts.
Most marketing departments, however, are not relying on the snow alone to attract people to the mountains. Many have implemented new marketing strategies such as discounts and package deals to make up for any shortcomings.
Ski Utah is offering a one-time deal this season with the $20.02 gift certificate good for a daily lift ticket at participating resorts after three nights are booked at a participating lodge. Michelle Palmer, communications manager at Park City, said the package has helped them recover from a 42 percent shortfall in reservations. She also said the Olympics should strengthen skier and rider visits. (For more information about the $20.02 gift certificate visit www.skiutah.com or call 1-888-957-UTAH.)
United Airlines and Vail Resorts have also teamed up to attract business with a package deal for vacationing families this winter. When accompanied by a paying adult, kids ages 2-12 can fly free on United Airlines from designated locations, stay free at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone lodging properties, and ski free with every adult lift ticket purchased for up to six days.
Only one free child's airfare and one free child's lift ticket is allowed per paying adult. This deal is valid from Nov. 20, 2001-April 30, 2002 with some blackout dates. (For additional information visit www.snow.com or call 1-888-222-9374.)
Several airlines are making it easier for guests to get to Telluride Ski Resort by offering daily flights from Dallas, Chicago, Houston, Newark and Phoenix into Telluride and Montrose Regional Airports. Telluride Ski and Golf Company is offering special package deals to attract additional business. Low rates are available for four nights lodging, three days skiing and round trip airfare from Dallas, Houston and Chicago into nearby Montrose Regional Airport. These packages cost $589 to $727 per person and are valid Jan. 4-31, 2002. (For more information and reservations visit www.telluride-ski.com or call 1-888-287-5016.) Many resorts that receive most business from drive traffic instead of air traffic say they haven't had to offer any special deals this season. They expect less dramatic fluctuations in business because people who usually fly to their winter vacation destinations may instead chose to drive to a closer resort.
Call volume is up 25 percent from last year at Killington Resort in Vermont, according to Steve Wright, director of communications and partnership. "It certainly helps that we have predominately a drive market," Wright contended.
Pass sales are up 11 percent from last year and lodging reservations are booked at 85 percent of capacity on the weekends at Giant's Ridge in Minnesota, which also has a large drive market. "People are afraid to fly, not to drive," said Shannon Kendall, who works in marketing at Giant's Ridge. "We actually think we'll benefit," she added.
Air travel into resort destinations was originally cut back, but most flights have now resumed normal schedules.
United Express is back to offering 10 daily weekday flights from Denver to Aspen and 13 flights on each weekend day after having reduced that number shortly after the attacks, according to Jeff Hanle, communications coordinator at Aspen Skiing Company. "They wouldn't be adding flights if they weren't selling tickets," he concluded.
Aspen and United Airlines are also offering "the flying ski lift," a same-day round trip from Denver to Aspen via United Express for $99 that includes a lift ticket. (Bookings for the Aspen Ski Plane must be made through StayAspenSnowmass by calling toll free 877-230-5077 or via e-mail request at www.stayaspensnowmass.com).
This season, American Airlines is only scaling down flights from Dallas to Vail from Dec. 15-February and March, according to Dale Morris, manager of corporate communications. He said American will have two daily flights during this period instead of the three they offered last year.
"We're anticipating a great season," added Morris.
Many great deals have come out of this season's shaky start as this winter may prove to be one of the most affordable times to ski.