Picabo Street, Olympic gold medalist in women’s skiing and founder of Picabo’s Street of Dreams Foundation, spoke during General Session IV at Mountain Travel Symposium (MTS). // © 2015 Eugene Ko
Feature image (above): The MTS Trade Exchange, a two-day session of more than 8,000 pre-scheduled appointments between buyers and sellers // © 2015 Brad Kasselman
More than 1,000 mountain travel professionals gathered for the 40th annual Mountain Travel Symposium (MTS) in Whistler, Canada, from April 12-18. Now the largest conference of its kind in the world, the conference, which is owned by TravelAge West’s parent company Northstar Travel Media, offers opportunities to learn about the trends of the industry through educational programming, large forums and smaller workshops.
Following the event, we spoke with executive director Michael Pierson about some of the highlights of the symposium as well as emerging trends and concerns related to mountain travel.
Based on what you heard at MTS, what keeps mountain travel suppliers up at night?
People talked about how to get the best possible experience for the visitor. The resorts make the vast majority of their money December through March and April — essentially 120 days — but this time frame is affected by nature which the industry can’t control. Therefore, mountain travel suppliers have to figure out ways to be better at what they are doing — even more so than other sectors of the travel industry.
The resorts have really been honing in on utilizing technology and perfecting the training of staff. They are also focused on getting the best people up to the resorts for the season, and have become incredibly efficient at what they do. By making the winter travel season a more seamless experience for themselves and their staff, mountain travel suppliers will create a better experience for their guests.
What else came up at the symposium?
The resorts are always looking toward the future of the industry, especially from a sustainability standpoint. We did not have a workshop on sustainability as we have in past years, but it was a topic that continually popped up tangentially.
Every single resort has somebody on staff whose responsibility is sustainability, or the notion of giving back to the environment whatever it is that they are taking. Aspen Skiing Company even has a vice president of sustainability, Auden Schendler.
What should travel agents know when selling a winter mountain travel vacation?
Travel agents should know the trends facing the industry and how resorts are dealing with them. As a product, a winter mountain travel vacation offers potential alternatives to the traditional winter vacation, which is somewhere warm and sunny.
What is the major trend for the mountain travel industry?
The single biggest trend of the last 10 to 15 years is that the resorts now offer so many non-ski related activities. There’s so much to do that it has really become a winter wonderland. There are activities at mountain resorts that don’t involve going up on the hill, including sledding, shopping, dining, spa experiences and exploring galleries. Festivals are held on an almost nonstop basis throughout the season at most resorts as well.
It used to be that if you didn’t ski, you didn’t go up to the mountains. But now, there are so many people who come to the mountains for the pure pleasure of being in such an incredible environment.
What makes mountain travel unique among other winter travel destinations?
It’s the overall experience. It’s beautiful: the pure and white snow, the green trees and the blue sky. The only place where you can experience the mountain scenery is in the mountains, and it is what makes a winter vacation in these destinations so special.