Can the Vail Valley benefit from an increase in international visits to the United States?
- 51.2 million: International visitors to the U.S. in 2000.
- 60 million: International visitors in 2010.
- 77.8 million: International visitors in 2015.
- 80.7 million: Estimated international visitors in 2020.
- Source: National Travel and Tourism Office.
Visitors from other countries are a significant, and growing, part of the nation’s tourism portfolio. Can the Vail Valley capture some of that growth?
International visitation has never been a large part of the Vail Valley. Visitors from Mexico, other parts of Latin America and Australia have long been present on the slopes and in resort villages, and international buyers are only about 1% or 2% of real estate sales.
Still, it looks like there might be some business to capture, at the right times.
Chris Romer is the CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. That group tracks lodging, and has a group sales arm.
Romer noted that the number of skier visits has been relatively stagnant across the industry. But international guests represent “a possible growth area” — if they come at the right time in the ski season.
Many Australians have vacations during January — summer in the southern hemisphere. Drawing skiers here during that month could be a “boon” for the local economy, he said.
Romer noted that Vail Resorts puts a lot of effort into marketing its North American resorts to international visitors. And, he added, Australians who buy Epic Passes can use them at home in our summer months and here during our winters.
If those guests come, “it’s incumbent on us to market to them,” Romer said.
But the international market is more susceptible to various shocks than the domestic market.
Romer noted that Vail was able to draw more drive-up visitors as the U.S. started its steep drop in the first months of the national economic slump that hit in 2008. The town put a significant amount of money into winter and summer marketing programs, and was able to essentially “steal” market share from other resorts, Romer said.
But that’s much harder when dealing with visitors who could be affected by events from disease outbreaks to financial fluctuations.
Tom Foley is the senior vice president of Business Process and Analytics for DestiMetrics by Inntopia. That company measures lodging occupancy and other economic trends in mountain resorts.
Foley noted that Vail is one of only a relatively few mountain resorts that are known worldwide. That helps in terms of marketing and returning guests.
But, Foley added international traffic can be hard to predict, for several reasons.
One of those factors is the strength of the U.S. dollar against other currencies. A strong dollar means it’s more expensive for people in other countries to visit the U.S.
Foley said the current strength of the dollar plays a role in suppressing international travel to the U.S. — “and I don’t see that improving,” he said.
Financially, the Euro has been contracting against the dollar. The British pound is significantly stronger at the moment.
Then there’s the latest strain of coronavirus, which has hit hard in China and is spreading.
That could lead to a contraction in visits if the outbreak persists. Foley noted that the Chinese economy is expected to grow at only 4.5% this quarter, the slowest growth rate since the international recession that hit full force in 2008.
Then there’s the perception of the U.S. as a potentially friendly place to visit. While avoiding specific comments about U.S. politics, Foley noted that tourism industry has been concerned that the Trump administration’s immigration policies could affect foreign tourism.
With all those variables, Foley said international travel, particularly intercontinental travel, is “less impactful” for the U.S. ski industry than other sectors of the tourist economy. Most U.S. ski resorts’ international visitation is from Latin America and Canada, he noted.
That provides a “greater sense of control,” Foley said.
“If you have 35% international (visitors), that’s both a positive and negative,” he said.
Still, more guests would be welcome at the right time, Romer said. And, he added, guests sometimes become home buyers or even seasonal employees.
“If they vacation here, (some visitors) might be more likely to come work for a season or two,” Romer said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2930.