The largest gathering of mountain travel professionals in the nation is being held in Snowmass Village this week for the first time in over a decade.
The Mountain Travel Symposium (MTS) is an annual weeklong event that brings travel agents, ski groups and resort representatives together so that they can network and potentially strike business deals.
The symposium is celebrating its 38th anniversary this year and event organizers expect over 1,200 people to attend, according to Michael Pierson, MTS president. It started on Sunday and runs through April 13.
When the symposium was first launched in the late 1970s, it was an excuse for marketing directors from major resorts to get together and ski, Pierson said. Over the past decade, however, it has grown and in 2009, its attendance numbers peaked with over 1,200 professionals participating in the event, he said. Pierson expects this year’s numbers to be similar, he said.
Resorts bid for the chance to host the symposium, which is held at a different location each year. Snowmass won that opportunity this year mainly because the village is able to accommodate the number of people attending the conference and offer skiing, Pierson said. Many resort towns don’t have the kind of infrastructure or conference center capacity to allow for a gathering of this size, he said.
Snowmass last hosted MTS in 2000.
“What’s great about Snowmass is that we have the new base village here,” Pierson said. “… The new Viceroy Hotel and the town is all bright and vibrant. Plus you have Aspen 20 minutes away.”
It’s an honor for Snowmass to host the event because it allows the community to showcase the ski resort to an extremely influential group of people, said David Perry, Aspen Skiing Co.’s senior vice president of the mountain division.
“It’s by far the most important trade show for mountain resorts,” he said. “Really nothing else comes close to it.”
All attendees get complimentary ski lift tickets so that they can experience what it’s like to visit the area, according to Perry. There also are events planned on the mountain throughout the week and at the new Viceroy Snowmass resort hotel and at Snowmass Base Village, he said.
Perry anticipates that by showing off the resort’s amenities, more companies will decide to host retreats in the area in the future. That would substantially boost business over the long term, he said.
In the short term, the symposium is bringing a lot of business to the local economy because it’s putting heads in beds, said Bill Tomcich, president of central reservations agency, Stay Aspen Snowmass.
The town’s occupancy rate has more than doubled compared to the same time last year. Based on a March 15 report, Snowmass is 50 percent full this week, Tomcich said. That percentage is likely significantly higher, though, because people attending the conference have likely made more hotel bookings since then, he said. Last year at this time, the town was about 20 percent full, he said. Meanwhile, Aspen will only be a little over 20 percent occupied.
“Snowmass is where the action is by comparison,” he said.
Most of the attendees are staying at the Westin Snowmass Resort or the Wildwood hotel, both of which are nearly full this week. Many of the people attending the event drove in from Utah or within the state, so the airport won’t necessarily be busy.
It’s good timing for Snowmass to host the event, Tomcich said.
“I’m really thankful we’re hosting MTS this year and not last year,” Tomcich said. “Because obviously the mountains are white now. They are certainly presentable to this very influential audience and I’m confident our resort will make a good impression.”
This year, there are three sessions dedicated to different industry professionals, and there also is a two-day forum that is open to the public. The forum features educational lectures on technology and the travel industry. A pass to both days of the forum goes for $595 each and there will be talks given by representatives from leading tech companies like Google and Facebook. For tickets, visit www.mtntrvl.com .