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Still hope for tourism

Business is slow now, but state survey predicts activity will pick up

— The majority of skiers and snowboarders still plan to vacation this winter, but they are taking their time making it official. And Colorado is perceived nationally as being the safest destination of all 50 states.

That was the sermon of cautious optimism preached last week to the faithful at the 2001 Governor’s Conference on tourism in Denver.

Three separate surveys, taken in aggregate, indicate the number of Americans who are reluctant to travel in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is receding as time goes on. And among those who don’t intend to change their travel plans, skiers and snowboarders are among the most stalwart.

However, among skiers who still intend to travel this winter, only a minority have actually booked their trips.

The surveys were sponsored by the Colorado Tourism Office and Colorado Ski Country USA.

Bob Lee, the governor’s director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, supervises the Colorado Tourism Office. He told a gathering of more than 40 tourism leaders that Colorado’s $7 billion tourism industry equates to $19 million in revenue a day.

“Tourism in Colorado suffered a one-two punch when our economy was staggered” and terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, Lee said. “As goes tourism, so goes Colorado’s economy.”

Meredith Vaughn, an executive with PRACO Ltd., the ad agency that handles the Colorado Tourism Office account, said there’s room for optimism in the survey results.

Vaughn said a national survey of travelers taken the day after the Sept. 11 attacks showed 37 percent of Americans planned to change their leisure travel plans. A month later, the same survey revealed the traveling public’s confidence had improved 27 percent planned to alter their leisure travel plans.

The survey was conducted by Yesawich, Pepperdine and Brown, a company also retained by the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. to gauge the mood of the traveling public and assist with strategic marketing decisions.

The surveys commissioned by the CTO and Colorado Ski Country also showed that of the 73 percent who do not plan to change their travel habits, three-quarters are skiers and riders. And among that group, 85 percent are planning to come to Colorado this winter.

If there is a good news/bad news scenario in those statistics, it was that those plans to travel have not solidified. Just 32 percent of the 85 percent who intend to come to Colorado have already booked their trips.

Vaughn said the Colorado tourism industry is up against trends that go well beyond terrorism as it looks ahead to the winter ski season. Already in August, Americans were reflecting the highest level of delinquency on credit card payments in five years, she said.

Vaughn believes the ski industry will need to offer a combination of value and deals to overcome the public’s reluctance to travel this winter.

“Most consumers are taking a very cautious, wait-and-see attitude,” Vaughn said. “They’re waiting for something to entice them” to travel. “Six months ago, value was the message. Now, it’s the deal that’s the message getting more for your money.”

Similarly, the travel industry has taken a wait-and-see approach to this winter, Vaughn said.

David Perry, president of Colorado Ski Country, said ski area operators are being careful about how they react to the twin challenges of a recessionary economy, and he thinks that caution is wise, but he says ski areas can’t wait too long to respond.

“We’re in a race,” Perry said. “As confidence in travel improves, it can’t happen fast enough for us.”

Perry said he takes great encouragement from the survey results that shows skiers and snowboarders are more resilient than the rest of the traveling public, and Colorado appears to be a relatively safe haven.

“Skiers and riders are nervous in the short term,” Perry said, “but they still want to take ski vacations.”


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