International visits up, but risk of dropping looms overhead
The most common question on a chair lift is getting a more and more diverse answer in Park City. Where are you from? Australia, Mexico, Brazil, Qatar.
International visitation is on the rise in the mountain town.
Part of it can be attributed to the “Vail Effect,” the boost in visitation that piggybacks on a Vail Resorts acquisition in a ski town, said Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau. But as the sparkle of the company’s 2014 purchase of Park City Mountain Resort fades, the Chamber/Bureau, resorts and lodging industry are amping up their marketing efforts to an increasing amount of countries.
Brazil is one of the countries the Chamber/Bureau has been targeting for the past several years and is at last seeing the result of those efforts, Malone said. The most common form of Brazilian visitation a few years ago was 45 people on a bus stopping by the outlet mall on a national parks tour. Now, they are coming individually and as families.
Malone and Jim Powell, vice president of marketing for the Chamber/Bureau, expect a similar market change from Chinese visitors.
“Being China-ready is something we need to be thinking about,” Powell said.
The Tanger Outlets in Kimball Junction already see Chinese visitors stopping by. As the number of international visitors continues to grow each year at the mall, a majority of the growth is attributed to Asian visitors, said Candice Wilson, general manager of Tanger Outlets Park City.
It now has a partnership with the financial services corporation China Union Pay, rewarding customers with discounts on credit card purchases.
Powell said the Chamber/Bureau is prepping in its own way, sending a member of its marketing team to China and starting to invite Chinese representatives to Park City to familiarize them with the city.
“China is an emerging market for us and we are keeping our eye on it,” he said. “Soon, we need to really start thinking about what the programs are that need to be put in place.”
That will likely be summer incentives because skiing is not popular in China yet, but Powell said seeing the Chinese on the slopes is not too far in the future.
Diversifying the Market
International visitors are a major source of income to the economy in Park City, and each visitor has his or her own nuances.
Heleena Sideris, international sales and marketing manager for Park City Lodging Co., said each foreign guest has unique spending habits. Europeans and Australians tend to stay longer but for cheaper.
“They come here to ski and maybe eat in between,” she said. “The Aussies will pack ham sandwiches with American cheese and eat it on the lift because they have to ski every second.”
Latin Americans, however, typically want a different experience. They might stay less time, but they book expensive rooms and spend time shopping around town.
Malone and Powell said they have both heard stories of Latin American families spending $100,000 at a ski shop or leaving a $10,000 tip at a restaurant.
“We’ll see them buy empty suitcases here and fill them up,” Powell said.
Plus, Brazilians and Mexicans tend to eat later in the day, so business remains steady into the evening at restaurants around town.
Their purchasing habits diversify the market, which is always good for business, Malone said. When the U.S. is having a poor economic year, international visits can boost the local economy. And as the baby boomers age out and the younger generation chooses not to ski as much, international visitors can fill in those gaps.
“We’re probably going to lean harder and harder into (international marketing) to bring more people here,” he said.
Currently, international visitors account for about 7 to 8 percent of visitors in Park City, Powell said. International guests are the second highest group of visitors in Summit County for designated market areas, groups of regions, states or countries visitors come from, below states in the New York area and above Los Angeles.
The impact of closed borders
Visitation has, however, dipped this year, especially in Mexico. Powell said it is hard to point one finger at the culprit, but a late Semana Santa – a popular vacation time for Mexicans — low currency exchange rates and geopolitical issues between countries likely contributed.
“There are so many different pieces to it. But there has been an impact in terms of how people feel,” Malone said.
Teri Whitney, general manager of Snow Flower Property Management, said that most of her international clients were not as affected by geopolitical problems as they are by the value of the U.S. dollar in the global market.
“When Canada has a better exchange rate and looser visa standards, it is more enticing for countries to fly over the States and head toward the Canadian Rockies instead,” Powell said.
But the Chamber/Bureau’s strategy is to keep the foot on the pedal, he said. Backing off during an economic crisis or natural disaster only injures a marketing plan in the long run. International visitation has long-reaching effects for everyone.
“If you are a skier, it’s pleasant to hear different languages when you are riding on the lift,” Malone said. “I think it puts smiles on people’s faces. It makes them proud of their community that people travel across the world to come here and recreate.”
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