Weak dollar brings more foreign visitors to ski resorts
03/18/08 7:34AM By Nina Keck  Download MP3
(Host) The economic news is bleak and the U.S. dollar keeps falling. But there may be a bit of a silver lining.
As VPR's Nina Keck reports, just ask the state's ski industry.
(Keck) If you ride up the gondola at Killington, chances are good this year that the person sitting across from you is not from the United States. Tom Horrocks is communications manager at Killington.
(Horrocks) "The strength of the Canadian dollar - to the U.S. dollar is definitely an attraction for Canadian visitors. It's quite ironic because six or seven years ago we were in their shoes and we were going up to Canada. Obviously, the demise of the U.S. dollar compared to international currency, it does mean that we're seeing a lot more visitors from other countries. And not just Canada, but a big influx from the Eastern bloc countries and the U.K."
(Keck) That's good news, says Mike Colbourn. He's marketing director at Stowe, where they've seen a 10 to 12 percent increase in international visitors this year.
(Colbourn) "The average stay of a domestic visit is somewhere between three and four days. Whereas, an international visitor averages between eight and 10 days. So, if you get a family from Ireland, the U.K. or South America, they're here for a week a week and a half. And that just doesn't happen with domestic visitors. They're mostly here on the weekends."
(Keck) And unlike domestic visitors, who often make plans at the last minute, Colbourn says international visitors typically book six, eight, even 12 months out. And he says they come no matter what conditions are like.
Canadians make up the largest share of the state's international clientele. Many schools in Ontario had spring breaks the first part of March, and Vermont ski resorts got a big boost from it. Mike Colbourn says the number of Canadian visitors at Stowe last week jumped 15 to 20 percent compared to previous years.
(Colbourn) "And I have to attribute that to some of our efforts to go after some of those resources, but primarily due to the value with the weakened dollar."
(Keck) At Smuggler's Notch, 85 percent of last week's overnight visitors were from Canada. Nancy Illemann, Smuggler's marketing director, says in addition to promotions in Canada, Europe and the U.K., they've also begun pushing their family-friendly ski brand in Argentina, Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
(Illemann) "It's a very interesting market. What we've found is the folks from the Latin American countries have roots either in Miami or in New York. So they are familiar with traveling to the East Coast and many of them already do speak English."
(Keck) Illemann says that although the number of European and Latin American visitors at Smuggler's Notch only makes up a about 5 percent of total skiers, she expects that to grow.
Mike Colbourn of Stowe is equally optimistic. He says it's hard not to be after the year they've had. Conditions have been good since November he says and all the holiday periods have been strong. He says advance bookings from Europe, and the U.K. for Easter, which is unusually early this year, are an added bonus.
Top it off with a weak U.S. dollar and Colbourn says it's like the stars are aligned.
For VPR News I'm Nina Keck.
AP Photo/Toby Talbot