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Colorado’s destination skier business declining

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Ski areas planning campaign to counter market share loss to Utah, Canada

Colorado ski resorts are mounting a campaign to re-establish the state as the premier travel destination for skiers and boarders.

Last Sunday the Denver Post published results of a "closely guarded industry report" which shows that Colorado ski resorts has been losing destination skier visits, primarily to Utah and Canada, at an alarming rate.

"A six-year loss of 1.23 million foreign and out-of-state skiers is threatening the state’s signature industry, which is the biggest contributor to the already beleaguered tourism industry," Post reporter Jason Blevins wrote.

The losses come as total skier visits across the United States and Canada reached record levels last winter.

Colorado state officials are worried about the trend.

"Travel and tourism is the second largest sector in the state’s economy, and this trend is alarming in terms of the future of this state," Treasurer Mike Coffman told the Post. "Once you start a downhill slide, it takes a lot of effort to reverse the perception that comes with that slide."

The study was commissioned last spring by Colorado Ski Country USA, the organization representing Colorado ski areas. While it makes no recommendations, the report provides resort executives with the facts to create a turnaround strategy.

Colorado still captures more skier visits than any other state – approximately 11.6 million last winter – but the percentage of U.S. skiers going to Colorado to ski is declining. At one time it was 22.6 per cent of all U.S. skiers. Last year it was 20.1 per cent, the lowest level in 14 years.

Colorado’s skier visit total last winter was only about 400,000 shy of the record 12 million visits in 1997-98. However, out-of-state visits fell from 7.06 million in 1996-97 to 6.03 million last season. International visits fell from 955,000 to 750,000 over the same period.

The report says Utah resorts have seen a 12 per cent increase in destination business since 1999. Canadian resorts, meanwhile, have seen a 127 per cent increase in U.S. skiers over the last seven seasons. The relative weakness of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. dollar is seen as one important factor in Americans heading to Canada.

Skiers from Colorado’s core destination markets – Texas, Florida, Illinois, California and New York – have declined between 7.5 per cent and 21.5 per cent in the last seven years.

"It isn’t that we are avoiding Colorado, it’s just that our opportunities have broadened," Sandy Ellison, marketing chief for the Texas Ski Council, told the Post.

But while destination skier visits are down, Colorado residents are making up some of the difference. Colorado residents now constitute more than 40 per cent of the state’s skier visits. Destination skiers, who accounted for nearly 70 per cent of skier visits in the mid-90s, now make up less than 60 per cent.

Part of the reason for the increase in Colorado skiers is the discounted season passes that Front Range resorts – those nearest Denver – are offering. Front Range destination resorts like Vail, Copper, Breckenridge and Winter Park logged a second-best 7.23 million skier visits last season, thanks largely to urban day-trippers, according to the Post.

However, all the discounted passes have led to the lowest ticket yield – defined as the amount of money earned from a lift ticket – in the United States, at 49.3 per cent.

What Colorado Ski Country USA and its member resorts plan to do now is concentrate their marketing focus on the state’s core destination markets. Twenty-four page Colorado skiing inserts have been placed in every issue of Ski and Skiing magazine sold in Texas, Illinois, Florida, New York and California. And the Colorado Tourism Office has launched its first wintertime marketing campaign in more than a decade.

"We’re going narrower, not bigger," said Rob Perlman, president of Colorado Ski Country USA. "We are concentrating our efforts on existing skiers and snowboarders. We’ve narrowed our focus to make this the most important issue we face."

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