VAIL — Summer, at least through Labor Day, was another success in Vail this year, but there were some bumps in the road.
While sales tax and room occupancy both continued the past few years’ trend of annual increases, fewer “destination” travelers came than in 2012. The number of overnight visitors also declined from last year. On the other hand, group business — from corporations to youth sports tournaments — continued its long return to prominence in the valley’s visitation mix.
During a recent presentation to the Vail Town Council, John Dawsey and Davy Ratchford, of the Vail Local Marketing District Advisory Council, reviewed many of the numbers from the summer and talked about what Vail’s summer marketing will look like next year. The district, funded primarily by a lodging tax, expects to spend about $2.8 million in 2014.
Talking about the decline in destination guests, Dawsey said much of that decline can be traced to groups that come cyclically — every two or three years. Those groups came last year and didn’t return this year.
Summer marketing also failed to hit its goal of a 5 percent increase in international visitors. So far, there’s been just a 2 percent bump in those visits, he said.
Looking to next year, Dawsey said Vail will be able to benefit from the second phase of Vail Resorts’ Epic Discovery summer recreation programs. New activities — some that still require U.S. Forest Service approval — include summer tubing and rock climbing.
Vail events that seem to be gaining traction include Feast Vail around Memorial Day and Vail Restaurant Week, a new take on the former Vail Restaurant Month.
The ultimate goal for 2014 is a sales tax boost of just more than 5 percent for 2014.
While destination visits were down this summer, Ratchford said there was a roughly 30 percent increase in local visits to Vail, driven in large part by events.
But the goal for 2014 is an increase in the number of destination guests, people who fly or drive from out of state. Winter destination guests are the top tier of visitors, staying longer and, generally, spending more freely than people coming from Colorado. While per-visitor spending is lower in the summer — just look at summer lodging rates versus those for peak ski season — they’re still people resorts want in greater numbers.
The advisory council recommended putting another $120,000 into attracting destination guests next summer.
But council member Greg Moffet, who served on the advisory council, but acknowledged it was several years ago, questioned the value of targeting destination guests with a relatively limited budget.
“Historically, the tactics were really expensive, and it would have been cheaper to just offer free lodging,” Moffet said.
Dawsey said social media and other tools allow marketers better contact with destination visitors today.
“If we’re really going to drive destination (business), we’re going to have to deploy some resources,” he said.
Ratchford, the marketing director for Vail Mountain, said there’s a lot of competition for destination guests.
“If we don’t try to get (that business), someone else will,” Ratchford said.
On the other hand, Ratchford and Dawsey said the plan is to start destination marketing in the winter, and can move money elsewhere — probably the Front Range markets — if needed.
Then there’s the idea of “health and well-being” and how it fits into Vail’s marketing efforts. Council member Margaret Rogers has been one of the leading advocates of making Vail and the valley a haven for health and wellness programs, including this weekend’s Living Well events.
Rogers asked if the health and well-being theme was being incorporated into summer marketing’s message and wondered if Vail isn’t losing its opportunity to “own” that part of the market.
Ratchford said health and well-being is already part of summer marketing, “But I’d challenge us as a community to embrace this better. We feel like we’re saying the things we need to say, but what have we done as a community to bring this to life?”
Ratchford said both Vail Resorts and the advisory council are willing and able to talk more about specific plans.
“There’s things we already do (at Vail Resorts),” Ratchford said. “We can certainly sit down and talk about it.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.