VAIL — A few years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to find a pharmaceutical conference held in the ballrooms of the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa. Today, while group sales still make up a significant bulk of the Vail hotel’s business, it’s a lot less likely to see the names of major pharmaceutical companies listed in the halls of Vail’s major conference hotels.
“We started seeing a decline at the beginning of 2013,” said Rob Henderson, the regional director of sales and marketing for the Vail Cascade.
That change is due to a provision of the Affordable Care Act, the Sunshine Act, which went into effect in 2013. The act requires manufacturers of drugs, devices, biological products and medical supplies to report information each year regarding payments and interactions made with physicians. The goal is to expose potential conflicts of interest to light and in turn drive down healthcare costs, but the act has also affected business for resort area hotels and conference centers.
A changing marketplace
While Vail’s largest hotels were once popular locales for such conferences, many event planners and companies are now unable to host a events for physicians at a “resort location.”
“For us in regard to conferences, it means that if a doctor is present at a meeting, they cannot use a resort for the meeting,” said Chris Romer, president of the Vail Valley Partnership.
That doesn’t mean that Vail hotels can’t host any medical conferences — it just limits the kind of conferences that can be held. Meetings focused on continuing education, university and teaching hospitals and medical associations are all still a big part of the lodging business.
“It changes the types of meetings we can host here,” said Romer. “Previously, a pharmaceutical company could host a meeting here for their top doctors and present their new products. That can’t happen anymore.”
Henderson of Vail Cascade said the hotel and others within the Destination Hotels family felt the impact of the Sunshine Act as early as a couple years ago. Fortunately, he said, the hotels have managed to shift its focus away from pharmaceuticals and courted different kinds of conferences.
“We saw a direct effect through the agents and brokers, as well as the pharmaceutical companies themselves,” said Henderson. “But we still do a fair amount of orthopedic conferences and events with medical device companies. Boston Scientific is here this weekend, in fact.”
Romer said some hotels have started removing the “resort” part of their name in response to the Sunshine Act. So far few Vail hotels have done so. Henderson pointed out that Vail is a very well known resort brand, so changing the name wouldn’t necessarily make a difference. Plus, he added, the Cascade has been in the valley for a long time, so changing the hotel’s name to cater to one group didn’t make sense.
Group sales strong
Regardless of the Sunshine Act and its effects, group sales and conference business in Vail is still a growing segment of bookings.
In 2013, there were 18 conference events. In 2014, that number dropped slightly to 14, bringing in a total of $452,000 in revenue. For 2015, bookings are looking strong, with nearly $400,000 already scheduled for group business.
In short, group sales, especially those pertaining to medicine, health or wellness, are still a significant part of the town’s lodging income.
“There’s still good momentum with health and wellness events,” said Romer. “The numbers continue to be good, but it’s a changing marketplace. We do want to continue bringing groups like this in. These are the kind of people who are a very good fit for the Vail brand.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at email@example.com. Follow her on twitter @mwongvail.
“It changes the types of meetings we can host here. Previously, a pharmaceutical company could host a meeting here for their top doctors and present their new products. That can’t happen anymore.”
President of the Vail Valley Partnership