Trump Slump in ski country

Trump Slump in ski country

CultureSeptember 01, 2017 By Will Brendza

The cobbled streets winding through Bavarian styled buildings of Vail Village are, even in the heat of summer, bustling with lively visitors. Many of them speak with accents or in foreign dialects, toting families along in one hand and pointing excitedly with the other into high-end shops peddling mink coats and down parkas in August. Even now, at one of the idlest times of year, there is no shortage of money wandering around Vail — not yet at least.

The resort, along with every other ski town scattered throughout the Rocky Mountains, depends on an annual horde of powder hungry patrons to keep afloat — to shred the hills, savor the lifestyle and (most importantly) spend money. Colorado’s Ski country is built on this kind of tourism. It is a fundamental pillar of the economy, without which, these swanky ski villages would still be modest mining towns.

International tourism is a function of globalization; it depends on open borders, open minds and a hospitable civic atmosphere. Unfortunately, a bitter and nationalistic attitude is growing in the U.S. It’s a backward pivot Donald Trump can be thanked for, provoking it on the campaign trail while insulting Mexican immigrants and continually promising to build America a “great, great wall” to keep them out.

In his short time as president, he has imposed a historically discriminatory travel ban barring many would-be visitors and immigrants from entering the country. He has defended white nationalists in the wake of violent supremacist rallies, and most recently, pardoned the quintessential racist sheriff, Joe Arpaio. The mood this new administration is cultivating in America is arguably an unwelcome one for foreigners.

The consequences of this are beginning to manifest: according to the location intelligence company Foursquare, tourism to the U.S. has experienced a distinct 11 percent decline since October of 2016 — a nosedive that coincides dubiously with the November election of Donald Trump. It's a phenomenon that has accordingly been dubbed the “Trump Slump.”  

This slump, while not yet debilitating, could still carry ominous implications for the mountainous slopes and surrounding cities, especially considering that one of the most persecuted demographics under this administration is extremely valuable ski country clientele: Latin tourists, and Mexicans in particular. Those groups surge into ski resorts across Colorado during peak seasons — throughout December and the week of Easter (la Semana Santa).

According to a study run by the Colorado Office of Tourism in 2015, Mexico is Colorado’s second top source market for tourists by a significant margin (second only behind Canada). These vacationers, often traveling with large families, stream into ski resorts like Vail and Aspen every year, bringing with them a tidal influx of cash.

In 2015, Colorado hosted over 175,000 Mexican tourists, but in the wake of the 2016 election, Denver International Airport reported a 25 percent drop in visitors traveling from Mexico. Even Rob Katz, the CEO of Vail Resorts, specifically noted a decline in Mexican visitation over the 2016/2017 ski season when speaking to media outlets.

As a whole, Vail Resorts reported a 6.3 percent decrease (or $4.4 million down) in their lodging segment’s net revenue. Despite these numbers, Katz remains optimistic, blaming the decrease in Mexican tourism on “variable late season conditions,” while writing in a statement, “[The] significant decline in international visitation … is due to the strong U.S. dollar, a trend we expect to continue throughout the season.”

It’s true, a strong U.S. dollar can redirect tourist traffic. It means a more expensive vacation, after all, and ski vacations are by nature already ludicrously expensive. But it is hard to ignore how closely the Trump Slump coincides with Vail’s dip in international visitors.

Though Katz isn’t the only one hesitant to attribute these numbers to the Trump administration.

Chris Linsmayer, the Public Affairs Director of Colorado Ski Country USA, isn’t worried about presidential implications. He was quick to inform us that the 2016/2017 ski season was Colorado Ski Country USA’s second-best ski season on record, ever. When asked if he thought Trump’s presidency has any impact on ski country’s profits, he was unsure.

“It’s certainly something the ski industry is aware of,” he tells us, referring to the Trump Slump and, “doesn’t think it is helpful, but at this point, it’s just too early to tell.”

Perhaps. After all, Donald Trump has only been president for eight months … who knows what kind of effect he might have on ski country (and American tourism at large) with three and half more years left in office.