Mountain Travel Symposium: Foreign tourist dollars up for grabs
International visitors to mountain resorts aren’t sexy just because of their accents — they’re sexy to marketers and hospitality industry professionals because they spend a lot of money.
Money is perhaps the unspoken theme of the Mountain Travel Symposium this week, which kicked off Wednesday in Breckenridge. Industry professionals from mountain resorts are here to talk to each other about how to make more of it, mainly through adapting and evolving their marketing techniques to new technologies and new consumers.
In the final session of the day Saturday, the discussion shifted to the international guest and the seemingly endless opportunities to attract those guests to North American mountain resorts.
American ski resorts tend to fight for the domestic customer when 80 percent of the world’s skiers live outside of the United States, said Bob Stinchcomb, the vice president of business development for Vail Resorts and the moderator of the late-afternoon panel discussion about international business.
An even more impressive figure is that the United States expects 72 million international visitors in 2014, so the challenge within the mountain resort industry becomes finding the skiers within those markets.
The United States government even has a hat in the ring in terms of attracting foreigners to destinations like Disney World and Las Vegas, as well as Colorado mountain resorts. Robert Stackpole, the senior international trade specialist at the U.S. Department of Commerce, was at the Mountain Travel Symposium Saturday to tell the industry that it has a partner in the federal government.
At United States embassies and consulates around the world, there’s a growing push toward travel and tourism initiatives. The international visitors who come to the United States and spend money here are known as tourism exports.
“There was $181 billion in travel and tourism exports in 2013,” he said, adding that 1.2 million jobs in the United States are directly related to tourism exports.
Mountain resorts are becoming more and more diverse as economies grow in countries around the world. Vail Resorts, for example, has focused its marketing efforts heavily on places like Mexico, Brazil, Australia and the United Kingdom. But they’re also looking beyond the borders of the already-thriving international markets to places like China.
The Nordic countries — Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden — also collectively make up one of the most attractive international tourism markets for the United States, Stackpole said. They come in somewhere between China and Germany, or seventh, in the top 10 spending markets.
International growth isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon, either. Between 2015 and 2018, Stackpole’s office expects 50 percent growth from Brazil and more than 130 percent growth from China.
But one marketing size doesn’t fit all, said Karyn Gruenberg, of Brand USA, a cooperative destination marketing organization that promotes the United States as a travel destination worldwide.
“You have to know your audience,” she said. “In China, they’re very specific how they market. How they search for marketing is very different than how they buy travel.”
So with forums like the Mountain Travel Symposium, the goal is to share that knowledge and bring the industry together as one force, rather than a bunch of competitors.
It’s true that just about everyone at the symposium is competing against one another for tourism dollars, but on the international scale that domestic competition becomes much more collaborative — including at the federal government level.
The feds have worked to make it easier to obtain visas in some countries. In Brazil, for example, there’s currently a two-day wait at the U.S. Embassy in Sao Paulo, said Steve Knode, a foreign commercial service officer at the U.S. Consulate in Sao Paulo. He was in the audience at the discussion Saturday, along with officers from four other U.S. Embassy and Consulate offices including Japan, Mexico and Norway.
“We are very focused on travel and tourism promotion,” Knode said. “(The visas) are not an issue now.”
So with help out there, and marketing organizations like Brand USA, who can provide mountain resort industry groups with international market analysis, the tools are there to bring home the money. The industry just had to figure out how to best use them.
“If you can’t tell the story about your destination, you’re not going to inspire new visitors,” Gruenberg said. “That’s where the new dollars are going to come — you’re going to grow jobs for the U.S. and grow your room nights.”
Editorial Projects Manager Lauren Glendenning is covering the Mountain Travel Symposium in Breckenridge for Colorado Mountain News Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-777-3125.
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