Vail Daily column: Quantity over quality?
Ryan Summerlin December 6, 2013
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the Vail Homeowners Association monthly report. We publish weekly excerpts from the association, which keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the town.
Much effort has been spent over the past years to improve Vail’s economy, largely through initiatives aimed at driving Vail’s summer business. While there has been much improvement in recent years, some question whether it has resulted in an overcrowding of Vail where quantity, not quality, is dominant. At the same time, there are some disturbing trends that might indicate that unintended consequences are taking place, ones that do not bode well for the future.
Foremost among those trends is the result for Vail’s prime 2013 summer months which was one of the weakest year-on-year revenue gains when compared to most other Colorado mountain resort communities. Vail’s sales tax revenues only advanced 2.87 percent from June through August, while Aspen, as one comparable, grew by 6.36 percent.
The Vail Town Council is sufficiently concerned that they have called a mid-December joint conference of their local economic development appointees to ascertain the reasons and to strategize corrective actions. The Vail Homeowners Association suggests that this would be an ideal time to re-think strategies.
A survey was conducted recently comparing consumer attitudes toward Vail and Aspen. With the exception of Vail receiving high marks for being family friendly, Aspen leads in almost all categories of comparison. Other surveys tied to the town’s summer marketing effort indicate that Vail continues to receive high marks for consumer awareness of its tourism assets, but has less success recently in converting awareness to hotel bookings, seeing a decline of 1.2 percent in occupancy year to year for the summer months. Some attribute the fall off to a modest average increase in high room rate of 3.1 percent, yet Vail’s rate lagged behind the rises in its competitors’ average rate.
Vail continues to market heavily to the Front Range drive market, which is about 35 percent of its consumer mix, many of whom are day visitors. Vail’s long-held attraction to the Front Range market may be falling victim to the success of its competitors. Many have copied Vail’s success formula of recent summers and are now hosting their own events venues.
The perceived overcrowding of Vail and associated hassle factors, such as high sales tax rates, according to some observers, may also be a consideration that is causing consumers to go elsewhere. Critics are saying that Vail’s marketing results have become too dependent upon budget conscious day visitors, particularly on the weekends. This, and an increase in the frequency of large mass events, are causing the perception of overcrowding. The strategically timed appropriate mass spectator events are an asset, but if overdone, can be a deterrent to destination guests. The solution to counter overcrowding, according to some, is to increase marketing and funding for events that are held during the week. But, will dispersion really dispel the perception of overcrowding?