VAIL — As the first waves of the people who invented and invested in Vail’s first half-century recede, town officials worry about from where the next wave will come.
The Vail Town Council, along with other community members, spent Tuesday morning in the Grand View Room atop the Lionshead parking structure. They were joined by representatives from RRC Associates, a Boulder-based market research firm.
The group learned about Vail’s current status in the economic firmament of mountain resorts — the subject of a story to be published later this week — as well as the demographic trends town leaders have to contend with and adapt to as the people who come to Vail change during the next 10 to 20 years.
Vail — the resort and the town — were created by members of the Greatest Generation — the people who fought and won World War II — and the Silent Generation, the people who were born roughly between 1928 and 1942. Those are the generations that first thought of and provided the money for the idea that became Vail.
The kids of those people are the Baby Boomer generation, people born roughly between 1946 and 1964. Those are the people who invested heavily in the U.S. ski industry, creating businesses, buying season passes and second homes, and generally fueling the economic phenomenon of mountain resorts.
But the youngest Boomers turn 50 this year, raising the question: Who’s next?
The council was focused most heavily on Millennials, the generation born after 1980, as the next market to attract.
Nate Fristoe, the director of operations at RRC, told council members that attracting Millennials is a markedly different job than selling the allure of a mountain vacation to those in previous generations.
Fristoe said Millennials as a group tend to look for “inclusive luxury,” something that isn’t easy to explain.
Even if they’re splurging, “People want to feel like they’re part of the crowd,” Fristoe said. As an example, he noted that the annual Bonnaroo Music Festival now sells luxury packages for those who want to mingle and dance but want a comfy bed and a warm shower at the end of the day.
ATTRACTING MONEY MAKERS
But while Millennials as a group are on track to earn less — and not live as long — as their parents, the founders of the next Google or Facebook — and the people who get in on the ground floor of those companies, whatever they are — will come from this cohort. People who earn that kind of money are Vail’s target market, of course.
So what do Millennials want.
Fristoe told the council that “maker fairs” — think smart DIY electronics, 3-D printers and the like — are becoming increasingly popular. Again, those fairs draw people who will be tech entrepreneurs over the next decade or so. A similar event in Vail might be a good way for the town to introduce itself.
To help draw young tech users, council member Greg Moffet suggested the town redouble its efforts to become “the world’s most connected resort.”
While Daly agreed that the town’s facilities need to keep pace with the changing tastes of its guests, he said the town needs to continue to focus on quality over quantity.
“We’re just not set up for 20,000 people (in town) beyond the Fourth of July parade, where they’re spread through town,” Daly said.
Vail resident Beth Slifer, chairwoman of the Vail Local Marketing District, suggested “borrowing” successful events from other areas and giving them new, or second, homes in Vail.
Toward the end of the morning’s work, council members and other participants were asked for a short list of things they’d like to see the town tackle over the next few years.
Identifying the needs of Millennials was at the top of council member Margaret Rogers’ list. Other council members suggested everything from expanding the guest experience through technology to finding a way to host a multi-day entertainment event.
But one thing about the present and the future is certain: With 70 percent of the town’s sales tax revenue coming during ski season, summer will be a major part of whatever the next decades bring.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-970-748-2930 and firstname.lastname@example.org