Aspen Skiing Co. banks on next generation
August 11, 2013
While real estate was the early focus at Thursday's 2013 Aspen/Snowmass State of the Real Estate and Tourism Economy symposium at the Aspen Meadows, much of the afternoon's discussions centered on the challenges and sustainability of both the Aspen and Jackson Hole, Wyo., resorts.
The featured speakers were Aspen Skiing Co. CEO Mike Kaplan and Jerry Blann, the Jackson Hole resort president. Blann also was president and CEO of Skico from 1985 to 1988. He was instrumental in bringing the Aspen Mountain gondola and The Little Nell to fruition during his tenure.
One of the biggest future challenges facing both resorts, Kaplan said, will be attracting the next generation of customers, especially for what he refers to as a "mature" destination such as Aspen.
“The boomers are aging,” Kaplan said. “We need to strengthen the pipeline of future customers. They ... have to have a place to stay that’s appealing to them. They’re not staying in the places their grandparents stayed in when they first started coming here, and that’s hard in a developed, mature resort.”
"The boomers are aging," Kaplan said. "We need to strengthen the pipeline of future customers. They … have to have a place to stay that's appealing to them. They're not staying in the places their grandparents stayed in when they first started coming here, and that's hard in a developed, mature resort."
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Both Blann and Kaplan touched on the importance of a stronger summer presence, as any exposure to these areas can lead to return visitors. Blann spoke of how being in close proximity to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons National Parks were built-in bonuses for Jackson Hole but, more importantly, how the local business community collaborated to strengthen the town's infrastructure with a lodging tax.
Kaplan said Aspen needs a stronger summer presence and must offer more recreational activities, using the existing facilities to capture more customers. He said the big push at Snowmass was to differentiate that area in the summer as a place to engage with the mountain in the form of great mountain-bike trails.
"The Elk Camp Gondola can offer people about 3,800 vertical feet of downhill mountain biking," Kaplan said. "We also recognize we need to offer more than just mountain biking. We need to find more activities that are compelling and engaging, and we're working on that."
The conversation turned to international visitors, how important the emergence of that market has been and how important it will be to continue to develop their presence.
Kaplan and Blann also took questions from the audience. When asked how they planned to make both Aspen and Jackson Hole more affordable and accessible for a younger generation to make that first visit, Kaplan said one of the answers was supply and demand, especially concerning the airlines that access both resorts.
"Prices to fly in have skyrocketed the past few years," Kaplan said. "I think you can tie that to whether there's competition in this marketplace and you saw it specifically this last year when Frontier Airlines pulled out of Aspen. Thank God the community came together and brought in American Airlines — that helped a bit."
He said the community helps, as well, by lowering costs for lodging during slow times. Kaplan also thinks there's a bit of a perception problem with the affordability of visiting this area.
"If you're good at working those websites, you can find great deals on lodging and lift tickets," he said.
The final topic was climate change. Kaplan said it was the defining threat to this generation. He said Skico has been proactive by reducing greenhouse gases at every level possible.
"The reality is that climate change is here," Kaplan said. "You need to take adaptive measures, look at lift alignments and lift elevations, engage guests around the clock, not being so snow dependent and getting involved in summer."
The event began with a welcoming address from B.J. Adams, the founder of the B.J. Adams and Co. real estate firm, followed by an update on real estate trends in Aspen, Snowmass and Basalt by broker Andrew Ernemann.
Adams' introduction dealt mostly with the importance of real estate agents engaging their clients and bringing a quality experience for the consumer. She touched on all the modern technology available to buyers, but the bottom line was that selling real estate was still a people-to-people business.
Ernemann talked about local sales and looked at the past few years to find trends in sales. He used visuals to back his data while focusing on the sales of single-family homes, condominiums and land.
"It's hard to argue with rising local sales in the Aspen/Snowmass market coupled with a drop in the listing inventory," Ernemann said. "It's a formula that invariably leads to rising prices."