As Aspen Snowmass approaches the halfway point of the ski season, Aspen Skiing Co. believes the latter portion, from a tourism standpoint, could look a lot different.
This projection — that Aspen Snowmass will be busier this spring than the beginning of the season — is based on a few reasons, from the changing of Pitkin County’s COVID-19 dial to a natural shift in travel patterns.
“The second half of any ski season is more dependent on domestic travel than the first half of any ski season,” SkiCo Vice President of Sales Kristi Kavanaugh said in a recent phone interview. “So we have a better shot at a successful second half of the ski season anyway just because President’s Day until Easter is very heavy domestic travel. And that’s good news for us.”
Kavanaugh said that while locals and visitors may take for granted or think little about the volume of international business Aspen Snowmass traditionally sees in January, said tourism is, in fact, the byproduct of a calculated and established strategy.
“The reason why we have such a successful January is because for 30-40 years, the [local] tourism community has been building up visitation from tourists in locations who travel in January,” she said. This target market consists largely of people located in the Southern Hemisphere — Brazil, Australia, New Zealand — who are on summer break.
“We focused on those people and have created a robust January because the domestic traveler basically goes back to work after the Christmas holiday, and they don’t really travel again until President’s Day Weekend and then spring break,” Kavanaugh said. “The community has spent decades building a proper platform of tourism.”
Of course, COVID-19 and subsequent travel restrictions have decimated international tourism. But this isn’t the only pandemic restriction hurting Aspen Snowmass’ occupancy.
Pitkin County’s single-household rule — which as of Tuesday is no longer in effect, as the county moved from red to orange-level restrictions on the state’s COVID-19 dial — was “the biggest problem for the lodging community,” according to Kavanaugh.
The rule, simply put, prohibited gatherings beyond one household. Because the uppervalley housing inventory boasts so many large, multi-room rental properties, Aspen Snowmass as a destination caters to people and families who travel in groups.
“As we lose the ability to let these people travel together or stay together, we’ve lost a lot of business. And it’s stymied new [bookings]. I think it also confuses the guest — [they are] like, ‘We’re all coming with negative tests, why can’t we stay together?’” Kavanaugh said last week. “So as the levels can change, we could see a very different second half of the season than we have the first half.”
Under Pitkin County’s orange-level guidelines — which now follow those of the state without added restrictions — the rule for public and private gathering sizes is up to 10 people from no more than two households, Laryssa Dandeneau, who is an interim planning, prevention and partnership manager for Pitkin County, clarified Thursday.
What qualifies as a household? According to Pitkin County: “A household is defined as a group of people who live together in a single residence. People who don’t currently live with you are part of different households.”
The household rule, however, does not apply to “regulated settings,” or controlled environments with required safety protocols, i.e., restaurants, gyms and fitness centers, schools, offices, personal services and even planned events.
Permissible gathering sizes at regulated settings vary by sector — for instance, at restaurants, a party must be capped at 10 people under an overall establishment capacity of 25% occupancy — but there are no restrictions on the number of households per group.
While the changes and nuances of the public order may certainly seem confusing, Dandeneau noted that the above restrictions as outlined related to households and gathering sizes will remain the same when Pitkin County enters the yellow, and even blue, COVID-19 dial.