Ski-season travel outlook a mixed bag
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. ” The first-ever Mountain Travel Fall Forum brought together more than 150 travel industry representatives last week for a glimpse of what to expect during the upcoming ski season.
Attendees were also given a long-term look at how global warming may affect mountain resort travel in years to come from keynote speaker Paul Goodloe, Weather Channel meteorologist.
Ralf Garrison, president of the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP), gave a mixed preview of the coming winter. While he said the subprime lending market’s collapse could join the list of recent events hurting the travel industry ” a là Hurricane Katrina and Sept. 11, 2001 ” Garrison remained cautiously optimistic. “We would expect the ski industry to be somewhat isolated,” he said.
Garrison also noted that despite a poor showing of consumer confidence, consumer spending remains high. “As long as consumer spending stays strong, then the fuel for our engine goes on” he said. “Our ability to outperform last year is dependent on how our consumers view the credit crunch.”
Early statistics compiled by MTRiP show that winter bookings through the end of August are slightly higher than at the same point last year. But as always, noted Stay Aspen Snowmass president Bill Tomcich, “Weather is the huge wildcard.”
Tomcich and Mike Mooney, senior vice president of the Boyd Group, reported that the airline industry has learned several lessons from the series of blizzards that devastated Colorado travel last December. In addition to improving serivce, the industry could be spurred forward by new competition. Frontier Airlines is expected to introduce a new plane model specifically geared to mountain destinations, which will reduce congested flight occupancies and likely garner a response from other airlines, Mooney said.
Looking further into the future, Garrison said the ski industry is nearing the end of a strong period due to business from the baby boomers. “We’ve got three, four, five years of really good economic revenue from the baby boomers before we hit a trough,” he said.
Statistics show that the age groups just below the boomers aren’t nearly as interested in skiing, but current teenagers and those in their early 20s are the next big potential market for the winter travel industry. Several experts offered marketing tips on how to reach this so-called “millennial”” generation.
Dan Connolly, a senior analyst for PhoCusWright market research, discussed the array of online and mobile marketing strategies available to reach younger customers, from blogging and e-mail campaigns to companies creating accounts on social websites like Myspace and Facebook. The difficulty, Connolly said, is for the travel industry to catch up with these potential customers in a high-tech world to which the young are already savvy.
“Never before have we had a time perhaps when the younger generation knows more about the tools for business and to compete than now,” Connolly said. “I feel we’re all at a disadvantage because of the age demographic that we fall into.”
But Raelene Davis, marketing director for Ski Utah, said companies need not become techno-experts to reach the young. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel; it’s already invented,” she said, suggesting the resort industry invest more in existing youth ski instruction programs and target-market families with milllennial-aged children.
At his keynote address, Paul Goodloe moved beyond the world of marketing and occupancy rates to take a wider look at the future of the mountain travel industry. The winter storms of last year, he said, may become more common as the effects of global warming continue.
In the immediate future, Colorado probably won’t see so much overall warming as a mix from one weather extreme to another, Goodloe said. “The big issue going here into the next decade is variability.”
Some years, that might mean a healthy above-average snowfall, while other years may see little snow. And not only amount, but timing could be affected, also hurting ski tourism, Goodloe said. “If you have a dump of snow in April, it might take you up to average, but there’s nobody here.”
From long-term to the short-term forecasts, Mountain Travel Symposium spokesperson Joan Christensen said the group was pleased with how the first Fall Forum went. She said Mountain Travel is collecting and reviewing attendee surveys now to see how to improve the event for next year.