Behind that No. 1 ranking
Once a year I have the pleasure of hearing Bill Jensen give his annual “State of Vail Resorts” presentation to the Vail Chamber. This year, I had that opportunity twice, as he also gave a similar presentation a few days before to all of the returning ski instructors at our fall orientation day. To be fair, it’s not just about Vail Resorts. It’s about the ski industry in general with emphasis on Vail Resorts. Sort of an update and a pep talk, all at once.While his take as presented to the business community was traditional and something we all looked forward to each November, I think the ski school particularly appreciated his view as to what actually makes the ski business and especially us, as the clear industry leaders, tick.To start, the announcement that we had again, for the 14th time in 19 years, achieved No. 1 ranking in the annual Ski Magazine poll received cheers.This is no small feat by anyone’s standards. As Bill said, if the NHL or the NBA had a team with that kind of record, they would probably change the rules.It’s a really interesting poll that is in its 19th year and in 2006 had 6,000 respondents who in 18 categories ranked resorts they had recently visited. What’s fascinating is that you don’t have to be the best at anything, but you’d better be darn good at a lot of things. For example, Vail did not rank No. 1 in any category. We only had two No. 2 rankings (terrain variety and lifts) and no No. 3 rankings. Yet we were ranked in the top 10 in 13 categories, more than any other resort.This year, SKI Magazine added a new category, “overall satisfaction.” The purpose is a little unclear to me, since the average of the first 17 has always been what determined No. 1. I guess it’s an attempt to allow each respondent to identify his or her overall impression of an individual resort. On that particular item, Vail received a 6.What I think needs to be kept in mind when reviewing these scores is that they are based on huge numbers of visitors. Last year, Vail experienced one of its biggest years with over 1.6 million skier days. Clearly, many of these things are more easily controlled when the numbers are smaller. For example, it’s easier to keep 500,000 visitors happy than the staggering number who visit Vail. Which really means to me that we do a very admirable job in almost every thing we do.Of course, we have a few challenges. We were No. 10 in lodging and No. 63 in value. Both of these numbers should come up significantly when we add the inventory that is under construction. Hopefully, the days of the $400-a-night room with the green shag carpeting will be long behind us.Access is another one. At 15, that number should be on the rise as more and more flights are added to Eagle County. How you raise scenery from its current ranking of 24 is a mystery and why it dropped from 20 last year is even more curious. How can anything compete with the views of the Gore as you come up those last few towers on 21?You might wonder why we should care about these numbers. It was a question raised at the Turn It Up! classes stressing “excellence in customer service” that have been going on the past few weeks.To the people attending, it was clear. Some of the reasons were external and some internal. Some were esoteric and some were very pragmatic. The answers ranged from pride in the community to the realization that happy guests mean job security for most of us. What was particularly significant was the realization and acknowledgement that while it’s a challenge to achieve that ranking, every one of us plays a role in maintaining it, that an experience in one place influences the guests’ perception of the community as a whole so it’s imperative that we all do our part.Last year was truly a banner year for the resort. The snow (how could we rank 9th?) was great; the numbers were huge; and all in spite of a fair amount of chaos in the midst of a building bonanza.So what else was indicative of how we’re doing? Each day, the ski company surveys 300-400 guests. What they attempt to measure is a new concept in the service industry, a “net promoter score.” What this is meant to ascertain is how likely a guest is to recommend Vail (1 is low;10 is high) to a friend or relative, a pretty clear indication of their level of satisfaction.I won’t go into the methodology, but the results are pretty impressive. Vail’s score is 81. Now, I don’t know if that gets your attention on its own so maybe a perspective will help. The highest score of any company out there is given to Fed Ex at 83. No. 2 goes to amazon.com with an 81. I’d say we’re in pretty good company and right up there with the best of them.We’re off to a good start with a track record that can also act as a goal for next year. Reservations are up compared to this time last year; the predictions say we’re in for good snow; and there are lots of new winter events scheduled. The only real problem, and it’s a real problem, is the employee shortage that is close to crisis stage. We’ll explore that soon.In the meantime, get out and enjoy the beautiful winter and have a happy Thanksgiving! Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail email@example.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Commentary” or search for keyword “ferry.” Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily. Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO
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