As the city gears up for what is touted across industries as a busy summer, Aspen Skiing Co. is already looking ahead to next winter.
To be honest, “we never really stop thinking about the next winter,” SkiCo vice president of communications Jeff Hanle said Friday afternoon.
But the topic of the winter season – which will mark SkiCo’s 75th anniversary – was at the center of discussions with SkiCo President and CEO Mike Kaplan at the Aspen Chamber Business Virtual Opportunities Forum. Association this week.
Among the topics Kaplan touched on at Tuesday’s forum were international travel – which he says will take longer to return to pre-pandemic levels – and group sales, which he says is taking magnitude for next winter.
International visits last winter “went to practically zero,” Kaplan said, with the exception of Mexico, “which has remained pretty strong.”
But tourism from Australia and Latin America – a major economic driver for Aspen Snowmass, and particularly in January – was and remains non-existent.
“The pace of bookings in these markets remains fairly subdued,” Kaplan said. Regarding specifically Australia, whose residents would already traditionally make reservations for next January, the country is said to be slow to reopen, he said.
Ahead of the pandemic, Australians typically book their trips to Aspen Snowmass around this time as they head into their own winter season and skiing is in mind, Hanle explained. Or, he said, some Australians will book their vacations for the following January while in Aspen, which of course was not the case this year.
In an effort to overcome concerns about COVID and the future of travel, SkiCo is encouraging markets to book while communicating the message that lift tickets would be refundable if pandemic restrictions were still in place, Hanle said. The ski company is also working with the accommodation community on this front, he noted.
“I think we have to assume that the international [business] is going to continue to be a challenge, and January is going to be a month where we’re going to have to work hard and increase the occupancy rate, ”Kaplan said, with the warning that he hopes he is wrong.
“I hope the vaccines will be launched faster than anyone imagined… it seems a bit difficult right now from an international perspective,” he said.
On a positive front, however, the group’s business is booming, Kaplan said at Tuesday’s meeting.
“This total cessation of group travel and events and socializing is rebounding, and I think it will be back for next winter,” he said during his presentation on Tuesday. “We are already seeing some of the benefits.”
That morning, a group had confirmed a reservation for early December, Kaplan said, without specifying the organization. Other groups back on the books for next winter include the National Brotherhood of Skiers – “a huge group,” Kaplan said, representing some 1,500 skiers – the Nastar National Championships, Disabled American Veterans and The Week gay ski resort Aspen.
“We have a lot of positive momentum from the groups side and also from the events side,” said Kaplan, adding then that next year is SkiCo’s 75th anniversary. “We’re going to be celebrating all year round,” he said, and in concert with the 45th anniversary of Aspen Gay Ski Week.
While it’s too early to say what exactly the celebrations will involve, plans are certainly in the works, Hanle said on Friday, noting he was on a “75th call” that morning.
“It will be a one-year celebration,” Hanle said. “That’s a lot – it’s a monumental occasion for us and definitely worth celebrating.”