Skiing: Corporate Connections

If North American ski travel planners are witness to any single trend as the century draws to a close, it's the impact from the rapid consolidation of the winter resort industry.

In many markets, locally owned destination ski resorts are now the exception rather than the rule because several large corporate operators now manage resorts in many geographic regions.

As these publicly traded companies gather capital from the booming equities markets, various improvements -- and thus enhanced selling opportunities for agents -- are beckoning.

Some new inducements include provisions for the business meetings and incentive travel sectors. Others represent more mundane yet certainly welcome upgrades to existing vacation packages.

Additionally, several of these mega companies are being staffed with executives from industries (cruise and hotel) that have traditionally grown through direct partnership with travel agents. It may all be adding up to a more agent-friendly environment in the ski trade.

At the least, additional funding certainly means ski areas will be better equipped to provide a comprehensive winter resort experience.

For instance, at New Hampshire's Attitash Bear Peak -- owned by the American Skiing Company which operates resorts in six states -- last season's improvements are helping the resort stand out against the competition.

While this destination, two hours from Boston, already featured conventional on-slope condominium lodgings, the addition of its Grand Summit Hotel has opened up the property for business functions, giving it an edge over independent ski area lodgings in the White Mountains.

For example, the Grand Summit features 11 meeting rooms, a 5,300-square-foot ballroom, full-service restaurant, cafe, fitness center, outdoor heated pool, valet ski storage and that most popular activity for executive retreats these days: A rope-climbing, leadership challenge course.

Besides business travel improvements, other general benefits of resort management consolidation include reciprocal lift ticket arrangements at various other company-owned resorts, and the standardization of amenities for instructional and equipment rental programs. While traditional destination resorts are being constantly upgraded, some conglomerates are also improving the rubber tire operations in their domain -- hoping to eventually draw legions of novices to their larger resorts.

This is just the case at Intrawest. The company owns destination resorts in British Columbia, Quebec, Vermont and West Virginia, but it also operates day trip-oriented ski areas in California and, for the upcoming season, in New Jersey.

Skiers at these smaller operations will certainly be witness to cross-marketing promotions designed to get them to book vacation products at Intrawest's larger destination resorts.

In the end agents may see this trend bringing them clients looking for the familiar surroundings of a "corporate brand" of mountain resort.

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