Business leaders offer advice to Eagle County | VailDaily.com

Business leaders offer advice to Eagle County

Lauren Glendenning
lglendenning@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – There isn’t a crystal ball out there that can tell us what the future of the economy looks like, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t going to keep looking for one.

Thursday’s Vail Valley Business Forum in Beaver Creek featured five panelists from industries including tourism, economics, research, government and business. The group came together to talk about current and emerging trends that might provide some insight into the economic future.

Thomas Frey, the keynote speaker and executive director of the Front Range-based DaVinci Institute, a research firm, said it’s almost as if society is walking backwards into the future.

“We live in a very backward-looking society,” Frey said. “My job as a futurist is to help turn people around and gain some perspective of what the future may hold.”

Frey’s perspective comes from eight major trends he said will affect the business world in 2010 and beyond: Demographics, marriage trends, telework trends, housing trends, the future of transportation, the wave of entrepreneurship, digital versus physical and economic development trends.

What does it all mean? Frey ended his speech with a quote from Max Planck, a Nobel-winning physicist, to sum up the point: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

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The clutter within mass media today has created complexity, making it harder for businesses to figure out how to get their messages heard, said Walter Isenberg, president and chief executive officer of Sage Hospitality, which owns 54 hotels in 23 states.

Businesses are finding that they need to protect their brands, but they’ve lost some control over doing that, he said.

“Today, consumers have become travel writers – anyone can start a blog and become a writer and trash your business,” Isenberg said. “There’s going to be a period of sorting all this out.”

The media clutter on the Internet comes during a time when businesses are embracing the opportunity to spread their brands and images far and wide, but their control over what those brands and images are has been somewhat lost.

“Consumers have taken over – they’re deciding for themselves,” said Ralf Garrison, who runs the Mountain Travel Research Program. “Our only protection is to authentically deliver the product we want to be known for.”

Businesses have to deliver their brand so that it spreads via word-of-mouth, panelists said. It’s tourism, after all, that drives just about every business in the state, said Kelly Jean Brough, president and chief executive officer for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

The same can certainly be said for the Vail Valley.

Brough said businesses have to come together to figure out how to expand their collective piece of the economic pie.

“That’s been one advantage of the recession,” Brough said. “I think it brings people together who maybe used to think of as competitors.”

Garrison said it’s time to realize that the boom days of real estate-based economies are over, and that the Vail Valley is going back to a tourism-based economy.

“At the end of the day, we need an economic foundation that is more sustainable over the long-term,” Garrison said.

Because winter tourism is the likely answer for long-term sustainability in the valley, Garrison said the valley needs to be able to support the people and businesses that fuel winter tourism business in order to stay strong.

Using the knowledge we already have about things panelists discussed, such as emerging social media, unemployment, marketing and economics, among other topics, is what’s going to help economies like the Vail Valley’s bounce back.

It can start with an idea as simple as that of panelist Don Marostica, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

He wants everyone in the state who sees someone from out-of-town to ask where they’re from, and then thank them for coming to Colorado.

The gesture, Marostica said, could travel a long way in terms of word-of-mouth.

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or lglendenning@vaildaily.com.