Colorado’s ski-tour operators report strong season numbers |

Colorado’s ski-tour operators report strong season numbers

Brent Gardner-Smith

It’s been a good winter for ski-tour operators selling prepackaged vacations to Colorado-bound skiers.

Bookings for tour operators this season are up between 10 percent and 45 percent in Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mountain, Steamboat and Winter Park, according to the Ski Tours Association, also known as SkiTops.

The association represents 25 ski travel companies. The firms reported that value pricing by resorts, fewer restrictions on lodging, good early snow conditions and new lifts and base villages helped drive business in Colorado.

“It started with significant storms in early November that built skier confidence,” said David Tanner, president of SkiTops and the owner of Rocky Mountain Vacations in Glenwood Springs. “Then there were rollbacks of lift ticket prices, including Aspen’s early-season offer of $39, which helped us sell more packages in advance of the main season. And this year there were no economic negatives, such as inflated millennium rates for lodging.”

A survey of SkiTops members at the organization’s annual meeting also found that individual skiers are waiting longer to book vacations, preferring to watch snow conditions and shop for low airfares. Also, ski vacations continue to shrink and now average five days. In other trends, group and corporate business is up while family vacations are down, and there is more interest in non-skiing activities at resorts.

Prepackaged ski vacations, which typically include airline tickets, lift tickets and lodging, now account for about 10 percent of all destination resort business.

SkiTops, whose members typically sell packages in a variety of resorts, does not release sales figures for individual resorts, hence the organization’s report of a 10 to 45 percent increase among resorts.

And the Aspen Skiing Co. is not ready to say how much its tour operator business increased this season.

“At this point we cannot give a percentage, as the season’s not over, nor do we have all the information from tour operators,” said Rose Abello, the Skico’s communications director. “But, overall, our business is up about 10 percent over last year, and we are extremely pleased with our tour operator efforts.”

But a bullish year for tour operators doesn’t necessarily mean a resort is booming. It can also be a reflection of slow sales in a resort’s lodging sector.

Typically, a lodging property tries to sell most of its inventory in house and only makes a portion available to tour operators and to the local central reservation agency. If sales are slow, it may release more lodge rooms at lower rates, which can mean more sales for tour operators.

“The properties themselves aren’t having a great year,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Aspen Central Reservations. “Not only here, but elsewhere as well.”

Not that Tomcich isn’t bullish on tour operators.

“Tour operators play a valuable role for Aspen because they can help potential visitors do quick comparison shopping,” said Tomcich.

And often, he said, packages to Aspen are competitive with other high-end Colorado resorts.

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