Saturday, February 9, 2002
Steamboat Springs Steamboat may be better situated than most resorts to tap into the mood of the vacationing public in the wake of Sept. 11.
"Family vacations have become extremely more important in America and Steamboat has a strong franchise in that area," Peter Yesawich told an audience of about 150 people at the Steamboat Grand Hotel last week.
Yesawich is a leading consultant in the leisure travel and resort industry. His firm, Yesawich, Pepperdine and Brown, based in Orlando, has conducted frequent national surveys since Sept. 11 to sample the mood of the nation regarding its vacation habits.
"You are going to see in the coming months, a surge in demand for family experiences," Yesawich said. "I can't think of a resort that's better positioned than Steamboat to capitalize on that transition."
Three converging trends are combining to affect the vacation travel industry, according to Yesawich. The desire for enhanced family experiences stems from the legacy of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, surveys tell Yesawich.
Another undeniable trend affecting destinations like Steamboat is the recessionary economy. Unlike the early 1990s when consumers were brazenly upwardly mobile, today's vacationers are "downwardly noble," Yesawich said.
The implication is that vacationers are looking for bargains, and not only are they unashamed to aggressively seek the best deal, they see their ability to drive a hard bargain as a status symbol.
"Savvy consumers know the travel industry has been wounded," Yesawich said. "They know the deals are out there to be had. Without that stimulation, incremental change in business will not materialize."
In the post-Sept. 11 era, the travel industry has chosen to put discounted packages on the Internet, Yesawich said. And that fact, coupled with consumers seeking the new cachet of "downward nobility" is accelerating the rate at which people are using the Web to plan and book their vacations.
Consumers empowered by technology represent the third converging trend.
Although travel agencies will remain an important part of the industry by serving as a travel concierge service, Yesawich said the number of vacationers researching and booking online has increased dramatically in five months. And the experience is almost addictive.
"Finding a travel bargain online the sensation is like pulling the lever of a slot machine and hitting a $50 jackpot for the first time," Yesawich said. "It keeps you coming back for more."
And the future will be even more revolutionary, he said. Right now, there is software available as a free download that will instantly search out the best airline fares for a specific destination and date, saving the consumer the chore of visiting all of the airline Web sites. It gives the consumer the power to instantly compare fares and make a decision based on very small incremental differences in fares.
Yesawich told his Steamboat audience that his battlefield reports from other ski areas in the West tell him that most are not faring as well as Steamboat.
Steamboat Vice president of marketing Andy Wirth told the gathering of local resort leaders and airline execs that Steamboat still has a lot of work to do to ensure a busy last half of February and March, but the pace of reservations and the new trend of destination skiers to book very close to their travel dates leaves him encouraged. He stopped short of predicting that Steamboat's skier days would meet or exceed last winter, when the ski area narrowly topped one million skier days.
Steamboat's market represents a group of people who perceived their economic status differently than they did just a few years ago, Yesawich said. In 1995, the number of millionaire households in the U.S. numbered 4.1 million. By 1999, that figure had zoomed to 7.1 million, and by 2001 the number had retrenched to 6.3 million.
"A lot of those people come to Steamboat," Yesawich said. "They're still going to come to Steamboat," but their purchasing habits may have changed.
"When the demand reemerges, it will come with a different complexion," Yesawich said.
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