VAIL — On the cobbled streets of this prosperous village, lilting Spanish will soon eclipse English as affluent Mexicans flood the valley for an annual pilgrimage that dates back decades. But this Semana Santa — Palm Sunday to Easter — may be a bit lighter than usual on Latinos.
High-end hoteliers are seeing rare April availability, and Vail Resorts is reporting a dip in ever-important Mexican travelers, as Canada boasts a surge in vacationers from Mexico.
While it may be easy to blame any downturn on President Donald Trump’s plans for a border wall and complaints about the crimes of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, any dip in Mexican travelers coming to Vail is influenced by a stew of factors reaching beyond political rhetoric.
First, whenever Easter falls in the latter half of April — April 16 this year — fewer Mexicans choose to go skiing, a trend proven over decades. Second, the American dollar is strong and the value of an international vacation to, say, Canada, offers a better value. Third, the snowfall in Vail has been weak since January — and Mexicans, like any other powder hounds, aren’t afraid to break tradition to chase fresh snow. Fourth, Canada’s 70 percent spike in Mexican tourists in December probably has more to do with the country that month dropping a requirement for a tourist visa that had been in place since 2009, a move that prompted Aeromexico to add direct flights to the Great White North.
“I think it’s all those reasons,” said Margarita Mondroy of Mexico City as she strolled in Vail Village last week with her family during a stay at the luxury Solaris complex. “Political issues, I think, should be left behind because this is a tourist thing and we are on vacation.”
The visit marked her seventh straight year traveling to Vail.
Rob Katz, the head of Vail Resorts, told analysts earlier this month that international visitation to the company’s major ski resorts in California, Utah and Colorado was down through January. He specifically noted a decline among Mexican travelers.
Ralf Garrison, whose Denver-based DestiMetrics crunches lodging occupancy numbers at mountain resorts across the West, says there is an evident decline in international visitors coming skiing for the 2016-17 season. He calls it the “Trump slump .” And while it may be influenced by the strength of the U.S. dollar making American vacations more pricey for out-of-country travelers, he said, “The trend toward nationalization by our new administration is clearly having an impact.”
“Mexicans in particular do not feel welcome in the U.S. these days and, from what we can tell, they are voting with their money,” he said. “The combination of the overall strength of the U.S. dollar, combined with the political pivot is creating a significant headwind for international travel, and that is most pronounced for our South American neighbors and Mexicans in particular. To the extent that destinations have their eggs in the international or Mexican bucket, they will be suffering the impact commensurately.”
The Town of Vail, Vail Resorts, Colorado and the U.S. have a lot of eggs in the Mexican basket. In 2015, Colorado hosted more than 175,000 Mexican tourists, up from 125,000 in the early 2000s. The Colorado Tourism Office tracks international visitation on an annual basis and hasn’t analyzed any recent seasonal trends.
Colorado sells Mexico roughly $1 billion worth of goods and imports $1.7 billion in products, accounting for more than 100,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce . And the U.S. tourism industry counts Mexico as the second-largest market for international travelers. In 2015, the U.S. logged the third annual record in a row of tourists visiting from Mexico, reaching more than 18 million . Almost 24 percent of all international arrivals to the U.S. are from Mexico. Last year, Denver International Airport saw a 25 percent decline in passengers arriving and departing on Aeromexico Airlines.
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So any hiccup in the flow of Mexicans can send ripples across the U.S. tourist industry, but that ripple can become a swell in Vail. Some lodgers and retailers in Vail said that it seems that Mexicans are coming more regularly, across the season, instead of in surges over Holy Week or Christmas.
“They seem more spread out now. We are seeing some of our more loyal Mexican families coming in the summer now, and they seem to be visiting more year-round, not just those big holidays,” said Matt Morgan, the owner and managing partner of Vail’s Sweet Basil and Mountain Standard restaurants.
But one of the biggest factors determining whether Mexicans converge in Vail for a late-season ski vacation is when Easter falls. Specifically, when it’s late, fewer come.
“The Trump thing, I think, is not significant. It’s the calendar and the peso versus the dollar,” said Ted Steers, whose Vail Real Estate Center sells real estate and rents high-end vacation properties to affluent travelers.
While Steers is seeing a steep downturn in Mexican families renting luxury homes in April, he did see more in the early part of the season. He thinks younger Mexican families are spreading out their travel patterns, not necessarily following the Semana Santa timelines of their parents. And they are still buying real estate, he said.
“They really want more dollar-based assets,” Steers said.
Mexicans easily rank as the strongest international real estate buyers in Vail and Beaver Creek. It has been that way for decades. Mexicans were many of the founding buyers in the fledgling Town of Vail in the 1960s and 20 years later as Beaver Creek was born.
Mexican buyers represented 14 of Eagle County’s 26 international real estate deals in 2015. That number dropped to seven of 19 in 2016 , when high-end sales in Vail and Aspen plummeted on election-cycle uncertainty. So far in 2017, there has been one home sold to a Mexican buyer.
Those numbers come from Land Title Guarantee Co., which compiles every real estate transaction in Eagle County and most other Colorado mountain communities. The sales statistics reflect the address and the buyer listed on closing documents but might not reveal a buyer’s home country if they listed an attorney’s office or another address. Brokers said most Mexican buyers in Vail and Beaver Creek are repeat buyers who list U.S. addresses — often in Vail — when they buy in the U.S.
The number of transactions may be a fraction of the total, but Mexicans spend big in Vail. They typically buy properties priced above $3 million.
“These are the uber-wealthy,” said Dana Correia, a broker who specializes in Latin American sales for the valley’s dominant Slifer Smith & Frampton firm. “They are typically more insulated from the economy and presidencies.”
Correia said he has already sold five properties to Mexicans this year, including a $5.9 million slopeside home at The Willows.
“I’ve talked with my Mexican clients, and they said they can deal with anything for four years,” Correia said. “They still want to dollarize. They need to invest in U.S. property. It’s in their best interest and it’s what they want to do. And they have a long history here.”
That’s even more reason for Vail to make sure it welcomes all international visitors, even in a time when the national discussion around foreign visitors may not be cordial, said Stan Zemler, Vail’s longtime town manager..
“We need to pay attention to our dialogues,” he said. “If you poke people in the eye enough times, they might not become part of your world.”
Trump rhetoric doesn’t bother Isaac and Sophia Cherem of Mexico City. They think Canada saw its boost of Mexican tourists because the country dropped the need for a tourist visa during a super-snowy December. And it’s cheaper to go to Canada, Isaac said.
“But maybe it’s Trump a little bit,” he said, eating breakfast with Sophia at the sunny Big Bear Bistro before catching a flight back home after a week of skiing. “We love the states. We love Vail. I’ve been coming here for the last 40 years. Vail has something that appeals to me. Don’t worry, you will see Holy Week and there will be a lot of Mexicans here. Easter week is vacation time and we always go somewhere.”
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