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Aspen Needs Mexican Tourists

Aspen Needs Mexican Tourists

By Mike Kaplan, President/Chief Executive Officer, Aspen Skiing Company
Note: This op-end originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Sept. 21, 2017.
My company runs four ski areas, two hotels and more than a dozen restaurants in Aspen and Snowmass, Colo. At peak season, we employ roughly 4,000 people. Foreign visitors are crucial to our business — and we have a problem.

Last year visitation to Aspen by Mexicans dropped 30% compared with the 2015-16 ski season. Bookings for 2017-18 aren’t looking much better. There are multiple reasons, but the xenophobia radiating from the Oval Office ranks at the top. As the head of the Mexico City public-relations firm that promotes Aspen in Mexico told us, “The dollar has been strong, which makes travel to the U.S. expensive, but Trump is the No. 1 reason.”

It’s not just ski resorts. Tourism Economics, a travel-research firm, estimated earlier this year that in 2017 the U.S. will see 1.8 million fewer visitors from Mexico than in 2016, with a direct economic loss of $1.1 billion. The outlook for 2018 is even worse: 2.6 million fewer visits and $1.6 billion lost.

Where did our customers go? A lot went to Canada, which sent a welcoming signal to Mexicans less than a month after Trump was elected. Back in 2009, Canada instituted a visa requirement for Mexican visitors. Last December, likely sensing opportunity, Canada rescinded the requirement.
If President Trump is as concerned with the U.S. trade deficit as he says, he should recognize that tourism to the U.S. is a type of export to other countries. Foreign visitors come here and spend their money. The U.S. destinations they visit cannot be “off-shored” or moved to Mexico.
While his defenders will argue Mr. Trump has only been singling out illegal aliens, the affluent Mexicans who would normally visit Aspen seem to disagree. Making an entire country’s worth of people feel categorically devalued and unwanted is bad business, and Mr. Trump has piled on this practice — from the haphazard banning of visitors from certain Muslim-majority countries and the drumbeat for building a wall along the Mexican border, to the proposal to cut legal immigration in half and the rescinding of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
"If President Trump is as concerned with the U.S. trade deficit as he says, he should recognize that tourism to the U.S. is a type of export to other countries."

–Mike Kaplan
CEO and President, Aspen Skiing Company

From a pure business perspective, these acts have greatly diminished the U.S. brand.

Words matter in building a brand. Our president must be consistent and clear in his statements that the U.S. is welcoming, that visitors won’t be presumed guilty as they pass through immigration and customs, and that America is open for everyone to experience and enjoy.

With the first snow having painted the high peaks here in Aspen, we’ve begun to dream of snowy landscapes and fresh powder. We want to share that bounty with as many people, from as many places, as possible. It’s a lot of fun, it’s good business, and I hope Mr. Trump will help us succeed by rolling out a welcome mat to the world.

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