New Realities: Mountain travel: What to watch for in 2011 |

New Realities: Mountain travel: What to watch for in 2011

Ralf Garrison
special to the daily

We’ve officially entered the winter season, and this past October marked the second anniversary of the economic collapse and resulting recession that have fundamentally changed consumers, transforming the mountain travel industry in the process. With 2011 in sight, it seems we will be entering a third year of uncertain economic conditions, meaning consumers will continue to be cautious about parting with discretionary dollars and the market will leave the job of generating demand up to the resorts and businesses themselves.

Despite encouraging signs that things might be slowly turning the corner, no one can predict how 2011 will turn out. Instead, all we can do is decide how we will both pro-act and react. Those wanting to survive must be ready to adapt as well as adept in their strategies. While the road to success in 2011 will likely be full of twists, turns and the occasional speedbump, our two-part editorial series will explain what I believe to be main cautions to be aware of at both the macro-and micro-levels.

You’ve heard it before and I’ll say it again: Despite some indications of stabilization, the economy has yet to truly settle down. Concerns over global debt and the consequences both at home and around the world are shifting markets and making consumers uneasy. Jittery stocks, low consumer confidence and a recent election where debt was a primary campaign issue are all indications that 2011 will only bring more economic anxiety.

As consumers remain apprehensive, they will continue to curb their spending, especially discretionary expenses like travel. Less demand and more supply creates a flat market, meaning every win will come at the expense of a loss somewhere else. Profit margins are maintained by either increasing revenue or controlling costs, something mountain destinations and their tourism-dependent businesses will undoubtedly confront in 2011.

You don’t need me to say that the weather wild card will make or break you. The constant uncontrollable, Mother Nature isn’t likely to stop reminding us that she’s the one in charge here. So how can you adapt to this reality in 2011?

Weather’s immediate impacts include the actual effects, but sometimes more significant for those of us in the tourism industry are the perceived effects. Weather itself isn’t likely to change much this next year, but today’s technology empowers destinations with immediate and real ways to publicize your message, as well as counter any misconceptions swirling around in the marketplace. Now, rather than letting people’s imaginations run wild after hearing the latest weather forecast, utilize new tools to assume an active role in the weather conversation. Be warned, though, these channels demand authenticity and anything less could bring a devastating blow to your credibility.

Transportation will continue to be an issue in 2011. Mountain destinations distinguish between two primary types of traffic: a drive market (those traveling 300 miles or less and typically by car or bus) and a fly market (travelers with a journey of over 300 miles, primarily via air). The drive market looks to remain strong, a trend that appeared as the recession began to pinch people’s pockets. The Thanksgiving Travel Forecast released by AAA estimates that 40 out of the 42 million people traveling for this Thanksgiving will go by car, the largest share of automobile traffic for any holiday, ever.

As for the fly market, the Air Transport Association announced Thanksgiving travel was up 3.5 percent over last year and the rising demand our friends at the airlines continue to report represents both good and bad news for us in the business of trying to bring travelers to our destinations. This is good news for the return of our long-haul destination guest, the coveted traveler who tends to spend the greatest amount of time and money. However, airlines severely cut their fleets in the throes of the recession, meaning returning demand will collide with shrunken supply. This lethal combination could give airlines the power to raise fares as well as ancillary fees, which, given the continued uncertainty in the economy and in the minds of consumers, could discourage the fly market.

What won’t change in 2011? The need to be nimble. Plan out your strategies for success and keep your focus, but be prepared to quickly adjust. Invest in tools that will help you make the best decisions possible in constantly changing conditions. And stay tuned for the micro-level roadblocks to be ready for coming up next month …

Ralf Garrison is the founder and director of the Advisory Group, which provides marketing services to destination resorts around the country, owning and operating the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP) and the Mountain Travel Symposium. You can contact Ralf at

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