Resorts plan to lure international visitors while dollar remains weak

Scott N. Miller
Vail Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – Here’s one of the great truths of the resort business: The farther visitors have to travel to a resort, the more they’ll spend.

Almost since it opened, Vail has relied on tourists and second-home owners from Mexico and nations farther south, seemingly regardless of how many pesos a dollar will buy. European travelers are a bit more fickle – there are, after all, some pretty well-known ski resorts in that part of the world.

These days, it may be a little easier to lure guests from Europe because the currencies used there – the euro and the British pound – buy more dollars than they did just a year ago. That makes travel a better deal.

But will American value prompt more cross-Atlantic travel this ski season? The answer depends on more than just exchange rates.

“Currency is just one factor of many,” Sonnenalp owner Johannes Faessler said, adding that airline prices and schedules can have big effects on travel, too.

“A lot of airlines have cut back on their schedules,” Faessler said. “Sometimes it’s inconvenient to fly.”

And, of course, there’s the matter of the weather. Great snow will sometimes lure travelers from Europe or keep them closer to home.

Last ski season, good snow in Europe, combined with a worldwide economic slump, kept a lot of European travelers on their home continent.

Ralf Garrison, co-owner of the Mountain Travel Research Program, a consulting company to the mountain resort industry, said it’s still an open question whether European travelers will stay home this season or not.

Garrison said early-season snow isn’t great in Europe this year. Worse, the weather hasn’t really been cold enough for snowmaking. Colorado’s resorts don’t have a lot of snow, either, but the weather’s at least cold enough for snowmaking.

“We don’t know whether they were hooked [on nearby resorts] last year or whether they’ll come back,” Garrison said. But, he added, a well-publicized major snowstorm could go a long way toward convincing European travelers that this is the year to come, or come back, to the U.S.

“The perception may be greater than the reality,” Garrison said. “But the message to Europe is there’s never been a better time to come.”

While some business owners interviewed for this story said they haven’t really noticed if there’s been an influx of European travelers, Bill Rey said he can tell when euros and pounds buy more dollars.

Rey, owner of the Claggett-Rey Gallery in Vail, said his business from European clients picks up when the exchange rates are favorable.

“From all the years I’ve been in Vail, I’ve seen that if the euro isn’t strong, they aren’t here,” Rey said. Rey added he has several good clients who live in England, and they’re more likely to buy if the pound is strong against the dollar.

But, Rey said, he’s definitely seen more European visitors in his gallery in the past five years or so.

But even with good exchange rates, Rey said, his clients don’t ship much fine art across the Atlantic. Much of what they buy goes to homes owned in the states, he said.

“I know when I go to Europe, I’m not enthused to ship anything home,” he said.

While a lot goes into what Garrison called the “cocktail” of attracting business. Faessler said strong euros and pounds do provide a little boost to his business. But, he added, even European travelers are mimicking their American counterparts in booking closer to the time they intend to travel.

However people book, though, people who travel a long way are at the top tier of a resort’s list of desired guests.

“People who travel farther generally stay longer,” Vail Economic Development Director Kelli McDonald said. “People who stay longer generally spend more money at resorts.”

Garrison said with so much uncertainty about the ski season to come, resorts still need to have plans to lure international guests.

“I think the story is pretty compelling,” Garrison said. “But some resorts aren’t in a position to tell that story.”

The winners in the competition for international guests will be those who stay loyal to international guests, Garrison said.

To do that, “destinations need to have a compelling offer on the shelf for when we get three or four feet of snow and Europe doesn’t,” Garrison said. “Of course, if Europe gets the snow, you leave that offer on the shelf and don’t bring it out.”

Aside from his business, Rey understands how compelling value can be. He currently has a college-age daughter in the Netherlands on a study-abroad semester.

“It’s painful,” Rey said. “The money doesn’t go very far that way.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or

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