As town gears up for what is being touted across all sectors as a busy summer, Aspen Skiing Co. is already looking ahead to the next winter.
In fairness, “We never stop really thinking about the following winter,” SkiCo Vice President of Communications Jeff Hanle said Friday afternoon.
But the subject of the winter season — which will mark SkiCo’s 75th anniversary — was a focal point of discussion with SkiCo President and CEO Mike Kaplan during Aspen Chamber Business Association’s virtual Business Outlook Forum this week.
Among the topics Kaplan covered during Tuesday’s forum were international travel — which he anticipates will take more time to recover to pre-pandemic levels — and group sales, which he reported are gaining momentum for next winter.
International visitation last winter “pretty much went to zero,” Kaplan said, with the exception of Mexico, “which hung in there pretty strong.”
But tourism from Australia and Latin America — a major economic driver for Aspen Snowmass, and especially in January — was and remains nonexistent.
“The pace of bookings in those markets remains pretty muted,” Kaplan said. With regard to Australia specifically, whose residents traditionally would already be making reservations now for next January, there is talk that the country will be slow to reopen, he said.
Pre-pandemic, Australians commonly book their trips to Aspen Snowmass around this time as they head into their own winter season and skiing is of mind, Hanle explained. Or, he said, some Australians will book their vacation for the following January while they are in Aspen, which of course was not the case this year.
In an effort to overcome concerns surrounding COVID and the future of travel, SkiCo is encouraging markets to book while communicating the message that lift tickets would be refundable should pandemic restrictions still be in place, Hanle said. The ski company is also working with the lodging community on that front, he noted.
“I think we have to assume that international [business] is going to continue to be a challenge, and January is going to be a month that we’re going to have to work hard and drive occupancy,” Kaplan said, with the caveat that he hopes he is wrong.
“I hope vaccines get rolled out quicker than anybody’s anticipating … it’s looking a little rough right now from an international standpoint,” he said.
On a positive front, however, group business is rolling in strong, Kaplan said at Tuesday’s meeting.
“This total shutdown of group travel and events and socializing is rebounding, and I think that will be back for next winter,” he said during his presentation Tuesday. “We’re already seeing some of the benefits of that.”
Just 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 — Nastar National Championships, the Disabled American Veterans and Aspen Gay Ski Week.
“We have a lot of positive momentum on the group side and also on the events side,” Kaplan said, then adding that next year is SkiCo’s 75th anniversary. “We’re going to be celebrating all year,” he said, and in concert with the 45th anniversary of Aspen Gay Ski Week.
While it’s too soon to tell what exactly said celebrations will entail, plans are certainly in the works, Hanle said Friday, noting he was on a “75th call” that morning.
“It will be a yearlong celebration,” Hanle said. “It’s a big number — it’s a monumental occasion for us and really worth celebrating.”