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Ski resorts hold their own in shaky economy

Bob Berwyn
Keystone, CO Colorado

KEYSTONE, Colorado ” Skier visits across the country may drop by 5 percent this year from last season’s record numbers, but the industry is faring well compared to other tourism sectors, according to Nolan Rosall, president of RRC Associates.

“I think this season will continue to demonstrate the resiliency of the ski industry,” said Rosall. “If you look at other metrics ” theme parks, general hotel occupancy rates and pricing ” they’re down to a greater degree than the ski industry is showing,” Rosall said.

That relative strength gives some cause for confidence, Rosall said, especially if the economy starts showing signs of recovery during the early part of next winter.



The industry’s relative strength is certain to be a bright spot for attendees of the annual Mountain Travel Symposium, convening this week at Keystone for a host of business-to-business sessions that could set the tone for next season.

Overall, tourism continues to plunge. Consumer confidence is at record low levels, and a recent USA Today Gallup Poll found that 58 percent of people who usually take a trip away from home will look for ways to cut their vacation expenses or cut out travel altogether.



According to the Associated Press, some travel consulting firms predict Americans will spend about 10 percent on leisure travel during the coming summer. Airlines have cut back on capacity.

Back on the ski industry front, some resorts in the Northeast are reporting big increases in skier visits; for example at Blue Knob, West Virginia, which reported a 35 percent gain. On the other end of the spectrum, Tamarack Resort in Idaho closed down in early March.

The resort, which opened in 2004, was being run by a court-appointed receiver and failed to meet payments last year. As a result, Creditor Bank of America threatened to remove the lifts. Real estate sales subsequently plummeted, and talks with potential buyers collapsed as the credit market dried up.



“We don’t know how deep this recession is,” said Rosall. According to some economic forecasts, the stock market may be rebounding as consumers start to think about next winter ” although it dropped several hundred points again Monday. That could help boost consumer confidence, he said. But at the same time, unemployment is forecast to climb even higher, potentially into double-digits by the end of the summer.

It’s against this mixed backdrop that about 1,000 travel industry experts will meet and schedule appointments with travel buyers such as international and domestic tour operators, group travel coordinators and travel agents to discuss and negotiate contracts for next season.

Several sessions will address the current economic challenges head-on, including one forum called “Stumbling Blocks to Stepping Stones,” which is tailored specifically to help attendees gain a better grasp on how current circumstances will dictate a new approach and tactics for managing their business.

The Forum launches April 1 at the Keystone Conference Center at 8:30 a.m. and features general sessions with three distinctive perspectives on today’s economy and its impact on the mountain travel industry.

Dr. Lalia Rach kicks off the Forum with her consumer-centric presentation entitled “Survival Guide: Understanding Consumers During ‘Interesting’ Times,” on how to move beyond the current set of challenges and find new opportunities.

The second general session provides a business focus in “The State of Destination Mountain Travel 2010: Taking It From the Top; Where and How Do We Go From Here?” beginning at 10:15 a.m. and featuring Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts; and Mike Shannon, CEO of KSL Capital Partners.

The duo is expected to share their insights and viewpoints about what to anticipate in resort travel in the coming months. Ralf Garrison, founder of the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP), will introduce the session with the most recent mountain lodging data available from MTRiP’s databank and will include details from the past six months as well as preliminary indicators about the coming summer and winter forecast. Questions from the audience will be accepted.

The third general session on Thursday, April 2 at 8:30 a.m. features Dr. Oren Harari on “Blueprint for Success in Turmoil: The Culture of Change” with a closer look at the big picture and how attendees can better manage and organize themselves and their business in these times of mandated change.

According to Harari, participants should expect to “settle in for the long haul because of the great uncertainty” (of this economy). He’ll discuss current trends that are shaping consumer behavior and will deliver a blueprint for action that includes cleaning up the “toxic assets” in every company whether they are programs, personnel, or services; and creating a healthy sense of urgency to attract future customers.

“We recognize that Forum participants need an objective assessment of the variables that impacted their business this past season as well as some action-driven direction on what to anticipate and how to react for the coming season,” said Mike Pierson, partner of the Mountain Travel Symposium.

“Although the rapidly declining economic situation forced the resort industry to adapt very quickly and settle for “less bad” results this season, that same level of acceptance won’t be realistic or viable next season,” Garrison said.

“We know that marketing professionals and business owners are already scrambling to find and utilize every marketing tool available to strengthen their competitive position for next year so our objective with the Forum is to deliver strategic information and tools to help participants achieve their goals.”

The Associated Press and the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent contributed to this report.

Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.


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