Skico discounts tickets to jump-start business |

Skico discounts tickets to jump-start business

The Aspen Skiing Co. will drastically reduce some lift-ticket prices throughout next ski season to try to draw more customers and polish Aspen’s image, company officials announced yesterday.

They are also firing back at their critics through the aggressive new program, acknowledged Skico President and Chief Executive Officer Pat O’Donnell.

“There’s obviously been a lot of naysayers who say price has been the problem,” said O’Donnell, referring to the company’s and town’s drop in business last season.

“[This] will be an interesting case study, so to speak, on whether price drives Aspen,” he continued. “I guess volume will be the measure.”

The Skico will try to draw more customers by offering drastic discounts for four-, five- and six-day lift tickets that are purchased before Dec. 1. The tickets will be good any time during the season – no blackouts during Christmas or other busy holidays – as long as the buyer provides a name and arrival date at the time of pre-purchase.

The tickets must be used within 15 days after that arrival date. However, portions of the tickets can be returned within 14 days for credit toward future lift-ticket purchases.

The six-day ticket will be sold for $234 – or $39 per day. Last year, the rate at the ticket window boiled down to $55 per day.

The five-day ticket will be sold for $225 – or $45 per day. Last season’s window rate was $57 per day.

The four-day ticket will be sold for $196 – or $49 per day. That compares to $59 per day last season.

The Skico didn’t announce single-, two- or three-day lift-ticket prices. Those rates and others will be announced later in the season. `Thanks’ to repeat customers O’Donnell said the discounts are intended to be a “thank-you” to Aspen’s legion of repeat customers. The company figures that between 70 and 80 percent of its customers in a season have visited Aspen and Snowmass before within the prior three years.

Company officials also gingerly explained that the discounts are intended to make a good impression on travelers who expect to be gouged anywhere they go during the much-hyped new millennium celebrations.

“My concern is that our resort doesn’t go overboard … and get what we can get,” said O’Donnell.

The Skico’s concern might have come too late. An analysis of 25 Aspen properties’ published rates through Aspen Central Reservations for New Year’s 1998 and New Year’s 1999 shows an average increase of 31.5 percent.

In other words, people booking rooms in Aspen for New Year’s 1999 can typically expect to pay about one-third more than last season.

Skico Chief Operating Officer John Norton noted that a longtime Snowmass Village guest expressed concerns last season about price gouging for this year’s millennium celebration. The guest said he had been coming during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays for 12 years and was in the habit of booking reservations one year in advance. But while making the reservation for next New Year’s at the property he’d stayed at for years, he found the rate had doubled.

“Our eyes were as big as saucers” upon hearing that news, O’Donnell said.

But neither executive would cite specific properties for price gouging.

Norton said he was optimistic that lodges would build off the Skico’s discounts and offer reduced-price packages throughout the season. Can’t be too successful The Skico executives acknowledged they are taking a risk with the program.

“If we have to drop prices, we hope to draw more skiers,” said O’Donnell. “We are hoping to get some increase in volume. This is not a giveaway.”

That means bringing back more repeat customers and cultivating new ones.

Norton said it was “hard to say” how much of an increase in business the program could spur. He also declined to announce what the final decline in business was for last season. That figure will be released Sunday.

O’Donnell said the success of the program will depend on convincing potential guests to book a vacation early. “We will hopefully fill our town early with skiers,” he said.

If the discount isn’t enough to make the phones ring early, the program will obviously be a flop. But if the Skico sells too many discounted lift tickets and not enough at full price, it will also be unsuccessful, as far as the company’s coffers are concerned, O’Donnell explained. Effort earns accolades The Skico’s announcement earned accolades from its marketing partners and lodge operators contacted by The Aspen Times.

“We’re all over it. We think it’s a fantastic idea,” said Jeff Tippett, vice president of operations at the Snowmass Village Resort Association.

North of Nell general manager Joe Raczak said the pricing is a “great, encouraging response by the ski company” that can change perceptions that Aspen is too pricey. It lets visitors and local businesses know the Skico is sensitive to concerns, he said.

The discounts could also spur business. “If they can put it out early enough, people will book now instead of waiting,” Raczak said.

Warren Klug, general manager of Aspen Square and president of the Aspen Lodging Association, said he welcomed the Skico’s announcement for two main reasons – it helps strengthen the image of value and it will encourage people to book vacations earlier.

“The high daily ticket has created not as positive of an image as we all would like,” Klug diplomatically put it. “I applaud the ski company for jumping in and helping with that image problem.”

Klug said he expects Aspen properties will respond with special promotions early in the season and off-peak times like January. But for the most part, rates are set for next season.

The discounted lift tickets could be enough to alleviate guests’ preseason jitters about snow conditions, said Aspen Central Reservations president Bill Tomcich.

“This is certainly a significant announcement that’s going to turn a lot of heads in the industry,” said Tomcich.

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