Intrawest CEO's Airline Summit speech
Intrawest Chief Executive Officer Alex Wasilov spoke to a group of people attending the Airline Partners' Summit on Wednesday at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel. His talk was titled "Creating the Best Memories Again and Again: The New Structure and Mission of Intrawest." 45 minutes long.
Intrawest CEO talks about purchase of ski area
Intrawest Chief Executive Officer Alex Wasilov talks about the purchase of the Steamboat Ski Area.
U.S. tough on foreign travelers
Roger Dow, president and CEO of the Travel Industry Association, told an audience at the Airline Partners Summit in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday that the United States is missing out on a big piece of the international travel boon generated by a weakened dollar.
"We've got a job to do," Dow said, "to really light the fire and paint the picture for people who have never been here."
While the U.S. travel industry spent the five years following Sept. 11 recovering, travel among other international destinations was booming, he said.
Why aren't more foreign travelers coming to the U.S? In many countries, obtaining a U.S. visa is a bear, Dow said. He is a former Marriott executive and a Steamboat homeowner.
There are 27 countries whose citizens do not need visas to travel to the U.S. However, in Brazil, people wait 1,200 days for a visa appointment at an office in one of just four cities in that vast country, Dow said. They pay $131 apiece just to apply for a visa. Travelers from India face similar hurdles, he said.
Dow recalled a business lunch with a Shell Oil executive who said his company does not host meetings in the U.S. because too many of its foreign executives must wait to obtain visas.
Further, the No. 1 fear of travelers to the U.S. from abroad, Dow said, is not crime, but the hassles they will face in the customs line at U.S. airports.
Intrawest at a glance
Total revenues: $1.61 billion USD
Skier visits: 8 million +
Acres of terrain: 20,000 +
Total number of lifts: 177
Number of high-speed lifts: 55
Golf courses: 15
Restaurant seats: 30,000 +
Lodging units: 8,200 +
Number of Employees: 22,000
Steamboat Springs Intrawest ULC, the corporate parent of the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., has launched a new growth era and intends to expand real estate development at its existing mountain resorts even as it seeks new acquisitions.
Fortress Investments, which acquired Intrawest in 2006, is prepared to fund the growth, Intrawest CEO Alex Wasilov told an audience of more than 200 airline executives at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel and Conference Center on Wednesday.
"We're just pleased that we have them on board because they have a hell of a lot of capital and they're putting it behind us
and it's going to be our fuel to continue to grow and prosper," Wasilov said at the Ninth Annual Airline Partners' Summit, hosted by the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.
Asked if his company would seek to acquire more resorts in Colorado, Wasilov demurred at first, then said: "We will look at and pursue aggressively any opportunity that fits our model of experiential destination resorts, assuming the resort is for sale."
Wasilov told representatives of five airlines that operate flights to the Steamboat area that Intrawest intends to work more closely with them and drive greater numbers of airline passengers to its resorts.
Fortress Investments paid $2.8 billion for Intrawest, the Vancouver, B.C, resort developer and operator, in late 2006. Intrawest in turn acquired Ski Corp. in March 2007 for $265 million.
Wasilov said the success that Steamboat, its vice president of marketing Andy Wirth (now marketing chief for Intrawest) and his staff have had in working with the airlines was a benefit resulting from the acquisition.
"Only at Steamboat," Wasilov said, "have we packaged flights. We want to take what that team has done with you and spread it across all of our properties."
More players, more projects
Wasilov said Intrawest wants to grow its existing resorts in four ways: by increasing customer demand with more effective marketing, real estate expansion, fostering more year-round activities at the resorts and creating better access to its destinations.
Experiential destination resorts, Wasilov said, provide memorable vacations that create an urge to return among guests.
"We want to create places where amazing experiences take place," Wasilov said. "It's not the ski lifts or the quality of the snow. It's how you feel after you leave the resort in comparison to the amount of money you shelled out to be there.
"Are you thrilled? Do you want to come back? How quickly? And how many friends do you want to bring with you?"
Following his speech, Wasilov turned his attention specifically to Steamboat. Although he did not specify real estate development plans that are in the works, he said Intrawest looks forward to taking on new projects while cooperating with other developers who already have begun redeveloping the base of the ski area.
"When you look around Steamboat right now you see five projects that are already under way. If we had tackled them all ourselves, it would be different. Our history has been to develop it all ourselves, but now we want to make things happen more quickly. We intend to partner with other developers to make it happen sooner.
"There is more happening at Steamboat today as a result of there being multiple players."
Wasilov said Intrawest finds there are three main customer groups for its mountain resorts, and Steamboat's customer base varies from that of most resorts.
First, he said, there are the people who love to ski and are prepared to search the world for the best Champagne Powder. Second, he said, is the group he fits into: people who are not good enough skiers to justify searching the world for the ultimate powder, but want their children to have that experience. Steamboat hosts a disproportionate number of people who fit into the second category, Wasilov added.
Finally, there are a significant number of vacationers for whom the nightlife at a ski area is highly important. They come to resorts to meet their future spouses - they're looking for some action, Wasilov said.
"The ski business has a large segment of consumers who come for nightlife," Wasilov said. "If we didn't think about all those things, we wouldn't be successful."
Does that mean Intrawest's plans for Steamboat include building new nightclubs and bars? Not likely.
"I don't think we can make that happen," Wasilov said. "I don't think Steamboat needs to change in the way it appeals to families."