Cosmopolitan, anyone? |

Cosmopolitan, anyone?

Catherine LutzSnowmass correspondent
Skiers wait in a lengthy line for the gondola on New Year's Day. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

“Su firma, por favor.”A Snowmass ticket agent asks a guest for his signature before handing him his lift pass. Heard more French, Spanish and German on the slopes lately? Detected more variations on the English language on the mall? Snowmass and Aspen have long had a tradition of attracting international visitors (as well as international workers) to the resort, but this year the number of guests from some countries has exploded.”We’ve been setting every record in the book for international sales,” said Stay Aspen Snowmass President Bill Tomcich. Before the ski season started, SAS reported that the number of bookings from Argentina was up 320 percent over last year. Brazil was up 120 percent. And by the beginning of December, Brazil surpassed the top domestic markets (New York, California, Florida and Colorado) as the No. 1 market booked this winter.In Snowmass, the Silvertree Hotel and Wildwood Lodge have 20 percent more international business on the books now than what they finished with at the end of last season. Destination Resorts’ five Snowmass properties are seeing a 600 percent increase in visitors from Australia and a 300 percent increase in Canadian guests so far this winter, and that number is expected to grow.And in terms of lift tickets, “we’re expecting double-digit growth in international markets this season,” said Chris McKinnon, who is in charge of global sales for the Aspen Skiing Co. “We’re expecting a very good year.” Around town, several locals have remarked on the increase in foreign tongues being spoken.”I think it’s fun, they’re coming in speaking different languages and we ask what they’re speaking … it’s fun,” said Village Market manager Debbie Miller.

And the visitors from abroad are not just coming from a handful of Western countries.”Last week we had a large group from Singapore and Malaysia,” said ski instructor Billy Fontana. “There are a lot of Mexican visitors this time of year, and also last week and into this week a lot of Asians.”Yes, I think there’s more international guests this year than in years past,” he added.Snowmass mountain ambassador John Eaton, who agreed that more foreigners may be visiting Snowmass this season, remarked that he’d met a bunch of Aussies on Monday, a group of Irish Monday night and some Argentines on Tuesday. “And Brazil is always huge.”Though favorable exchange rates and other external factors play into a guest’s vacation decision, the word-of-mouth factor is also huge.”We were looking for a place to go and my friend said that among all the other ones, Snowmass is one of the better places,” said Tumer Tumay, who is originally from Turkey but lives in Florida and is here with his whole family.”A lot of friends have come and they liked it a lot,” agreed Jaime Moreno of Mexico City. “The people are great, there’s good snow and lots of ski patrol. We feel safe.”Snowmass and Aspen’s popularity among international travelers is due to factors that seem to have aligned just right this season. At a time when many properties and the ski companies have put a more intense focus on international marketing, the dollar’s value has dropped significantly against other currencies, most notably the euro and the British pound.The dollar has been struggling mightily against the euro, slumping to an all-time low of 1.35 against the single European currency on Christmas Eve, and still slipping.

“The weak American dollar has made quite an impact on the increase in international visits,” said Mountain Chalet general manager Mary Harris, who said she’s also noticed a few more guests from the United Kingdom this year.Indeed, when the dollar drops, there is a slight surge in bookings, said Tomcich, although “it’s not as easy to quantify as a snowstorm during a Broncos game.”Another factor that works in Aspen/Snowmass’ favor is that most countries have more vacation time than Americans do. “And it’s nice because they’re not traveling at the same time as Americans are,” said Jennifer Evans, director of sales and marketing for Destination Resorts Snowmass.Winter here is summer for the southern hemisphere, and thus coincides with many countries’ summer vacation. January is a big travel month for Australians and Brazilians. Mexicans have a lot of time off over Christmas and Easter. And in the northern hemisphere, Europeans enjoy holidays the second week of February and at the end of March.But what many sources are crediting for the increase in international visits is the stepped up efforts of an alliance of local properties, the Skico and Stay Aspen Snowmass. Various properties pay dues to support the Aspen/Snowmass International Alliance, which employs three international sales managers and five international public relations representatives.Property representatives can also go to international trade shows with other alliance members. The alliance has been in place since the early 1990s, though many agree that its effects are more visible now than ever.”It really is a cooperative effort,” said the Silvertree Hotel’s John Quigley. “We are spending more money to bring in international visitors and it’s paying off.”The Silvertree/Wildwood’s top growth markets this season, said Quigley, are Australia, South America in general, Mexico and the United Kingdom – the same markets on which the alliance has been focusing.”We’ve focused on South America and Mexico for the last five or six years, and in the past two to three years have really gone after the Australian market,” said Quigley. “We used to go on these international missions every other year … but we’re doing it every year now.”

The Skico’s McKinnon pointed out that Aspen/Snowmass was one of the few resorts to continue its international efforts in the aftermath of 9/11.”It really strengthened our relationship with our international partners, and it’s paying off in spades right now,” she said. International visits account for 15 percent to 20 percent of the Skico’s destination visits.What are the benefits to the resort of having guests from around the world? Because they travel further, they often stay longer – a 10- to 12-day visit is not uncommon while American vacations are shrinking to less than a week.The bottom line is, they spend more money.Becoming a veritable Babylon has its nonquantifiable advantages as well.”It adds to the essence of the overall experience,” said Quigley. “It’s a lot more interesting to hear all the different accents. All the guests just pick up on it, and that’s the resort experience.”


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