Weak dollar boosts Aspen skier numbers | AspenTimes.com

Weak dollar boosts Aspen skier numbers

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspenites may not feel like their dollar goes very far in their pricey resort home, but for many foreign visitors, a ski vacation here is a particularly good deal these days.

International travelers are taking advantage of favorable exchange rates with the slumping U.S. dollar, and Aspen and Snowmass resort officials are reporting an upswing in guests from various foreign markets this ski season.

“Yes, absolutely, international destination visitors are way up this year, no matter how we measure it,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a local reservations agency. “And I’m sure a lot of that has to do with the favorable currency exchanges.”

Americans may opt to stay home, given the dollar’s reduced spending power overseas, but conversely, vacationers from the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, Australia and South America are all getting more for their money in the United States than they were a year ago.

“I’ve got some personal friends in Sweden and the U.K. who are coming over this way because of how far their dollar goes,” Tomcich confirmed.

The British pound is up about 12 percent on the dollar, compared to last winter, while the euro is up roughly 20 percent and the Australian dollar is up about 33 percent, according to Kris McKinnon, managing director of worldwide sales for the Aspen Skiing Co.

“Certainly, the favorable exchange rates have helped,” she said, declining to divulge specific skier numbers for the season thus far.

The weaker dollar, however, is hardly the only factor to credit for the increase in international business, both McKinnon and Tomcich agree.

The Skico puts plenty of focus on its international marketing efforts, McKinnon said, employing three international sales managers in Aspen and five representatives abroad who work with tour operators and travel agents.

“We have made a long-term decision to focus on international business,” she said. “We have probably the best international marketing and [public relations] effort in the industry.”

The calendar has worked in Aspen’s favor this ski season, as well, Tomcich noted.

Christmas and New Year’s Day both fell on Thursdays, and a midweek holiday lures more visitors into a weeklong stay as opposed to a long weekend, he said.

In addition, Carnival in Brazil (we think of it as Mardi Gras here) falls a week earlier this year. It’s a time when Brazilians like to vacation, according to Tomcich, but last year the celebration coincided with HBO’s Comedy Fest in March, which fills up Aspen’s hotel rooms. This year, the resort can take advantage of both events.

Finally, Easter falls on the final weekend of the ski season, and the week preceding the holiday is a popular vacation time for Latin Americans. Although the peso is weaker than the dollar, Aspen is seeing a significant increase in guests from Mexico this year due to the favorable Easter date, according to McKinnon.

Aspen may also be benefiting from the stronger Canadian dollar, combined with rate hikes at ski resorts in Canada. Travel packages to Aspen are now more competitive with ski vacations to Whistler/Blackcomb, for example, Tomcich said.

Various local lodging properties confirm they’ve seen a larger influx of foreign guests this winter, whatever the reason.

“Our Brazilian guests are very strong this winter,” said John Egelhoff, director of sales and marketing at The Little Nell hotel.

Beth Hagerty, general manager at the Aspen Mountain Lodge, has noticed an upswing in guests from Germany and Spain, while the St. Moritz Lodge is enjoying more business from Australia, New Zealand and South America, reported manager Roger Haneman.

As of late last week, one euro was worth $1.27US and the British pound was fetching $1.89US ” exchange rates that don’t make the Skico’s marketing dollars stretch as far as they used to.

“It certainly isn’t making our effort any cheaper,” McKinnon said.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com