As season ends, Aspen Skiing Co. looks forward to the next |

As season ends, Aspen Skiing Co. looks forward to the next

ASPEN ” The Aspen Skiing Co. will ride out the recession with a general business and marketing strategy that officials believe served them well this winter.

Skico Senior Vice President David Perry said the company will not compromise service next winter. That means sticking with existing staffing levels and not making drastic cuts like some of its major competitors.

The Skico will concentrate on retaining its most loyal customers but also provide deals for bargain-conscious travelers. A key goal in these tough economic times is providing customers with good value for their money.

“Even our most loyal guests are more value-conscious than ever,” Perry said.

Skico officials won’t hazard a guess on whether the economy will improve by next ski season. Forecasts by economists are all over the map. What is clear to Perry is that people will keep a tight grip on their wallets. Those who take ski trips might not be willing to spend as much. That explains why skier visits are down about 10 percent this season, while Aspen sales tax revenues are off about twice that much.

“Conspicuous consumption is out of style, and it’s going to be out of favor for a while,” Perry said.

The Skico fared relatively well this winter. At the start of the season, the company expected its skier visits ” a standard measure for the industry ” to fall between 5 and 15 percent. Perry said that forecast proved accurate ” the current estimate is for a decline of 10 percent or slightly less.

The ski season officially ended Sunday with the closure of Aspen Mountain and Snowmass. Aspen Highlands will reopen for the next two weekends.

Nationally, the ski industry will be down somewhat less than 10 percent, said Michael Berry, president of the Denver-based National Ski Areas Association. Resorts in the eastern U.S. fared particularly well because skiers and riders decided to stick close to home, he said.

The Skico fared better with subsets of customers than it did overall. The number of return guests was up 3 to 4 percent, Perry said. And locals used their passes about as much as the prior season.

On the other hand, international business took a beating. The Australian currency was down 40 percent compared to the U.S. dollar at one point, so visits from Aspen’s top foreign market fell “dramatically,” according to Perry. A drop in international business is particularly painful because overseas travelers tend to stay longer and ski more often than domestic travelers. Among domestic business, Perry said Aspen-Snowmass didn’t attract as many travelers for long weekends as he expected.

Perry said the company’s annual surveys of guests indicated the decision to retain staff and maintain service paid off. The likelihood of guests recommending Aspen-Snowmass to others was the highest it has been in the three years the surveys have been conducted, he said. He credited the entire resort, not just the Skico, for maintaining that top-notch service. Maintaining the staffing and that quality service is a priority for next season.

The Skico, like the entire ski industry, will be better prepared to offer deals heading into next season, Perry said. The economy didn’t really tank until after marketing and ad campaigns were set for last season. The industry responded with discounts as the season progressed.

Travelers will expect those bargains again next winter, Perry said. The Skico and its marketing partners found that their “Perfect Storm” package worked particularly well this season. It added an extra lift ticket and night of lodging when buyers committed to trips of a certain length.

The key will be tailoring a plan to match the economy as the ski season nears rather than establishing a campaign well ahead of time and forging ahead. “We need to be very agile going forward,” Perry said.

Berry agreed that travelers will be waiting until the last moment to book trips, and they will seek the best deals. Right now, it is too tough to know what to expect next season.

“The question before us all is, is this the bottom?” Berry said.

Skico officials have made no decisions yet on pass prices. This season’s pass sales didn’t suffer. “People bought their passes before the economy melted down,” Perry said.

Skico officials are well aware that the Roaring Fork Valley’s economy is hurting, particularly businesses dependent on real estate sales and development. On the other hand, skiing is a big priority for people who live here. “People are going to find a way to afford it,” Perry said.

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