Changing school schedules will affect tourism |

Changing school schedules will affect tourism

Kimberly Nicoletti
High Country Business Review
Shane Macomber/

This season, kids’ school terms may impact business in the High Country.

The trends of kids going back to school earlier and earlier in summer, as well as the fact that Christmas and Easter vacations will significantly change this ski season, have some people concerned.

School breaks are the main driver in family vacations. As students go back to school in mid- or late August, tourism drops off. In fact, businesses may begin to see a drop in early August because many school sports programs start a few weeks before the first day of classes, said Chris Cares of RRC Associates. That’s a problem, because active families are usually the demographic Summit and Eagle counties draw, he said.

To combat early school return, Cares suggests businesses turn to aging Baby Boomers who aren’t reliant on kids’ school schedules to take time off. Traditionally, those people have traveled in September and October to avoid crowds associated with summer vacations. Although crowds aren’t always the case in August anymore, people without kids still hold that perception, so businesses should advertise in order to change that perception, he said.

“It’s important for smaller business owners to recognize this, otherwise it can lead to poor decision-making,” Cares said.

Larger companies, such as Vail Resorts and the towns in Summit and Eagle counties have been aware of school schedules for some time.

Last year, the town of Vail started a new campaign geared toward Front Rangers from Aug. 17 to Sept. 3, because schools went back earlier in 2006, too. It called the promotion 8150, Vail’s elevation. Businesses, either alone or together, offered dinners, lodging, activities or a combination thereof for $81.50. Whether they made it per person or per couple was up to them.

Since it was “very successful,” according to Kelli McDonald, Vail’s economic development manager, and because double the number of businesses want to participate this year, Vail will offer it again.

Christmas-season sales may show less green this year, as winter vacation schedules are showing a significant shift. Of about 3,500 schools surveyed nationwide, less than 10 percent will be out from Dec. 15-22, whereas in years past, that number has been as high as 90 percent, Cares said.

Most families will vacation Dec. 29 through Jan. 5, he said, making it a family-oriented week rather than targeting college students, as businesses sometimes do when school breaks fall earlier in December.

But the real problem seems to lie in Easter falling at one of the earliest times in history: March 23.

Between March 15 and 29, 20 percent more schools than last year will be on break, according to Cares’ study. And the High Country has a limited capacity, as do airlines to get people here, said Lucy Kay of the Breckenridge Resort Chamber. She sees March and April as a “huge challenge.” The prediction: a busy second week of March and a very slow April.

“In the past, there were a decent number of schools out with a later Easter ” they’d go all the way to April 12,” Cares said. “This year, it really drops off after April 1.”

The town of Vail has reduced its sales-tax projections for April 2008 because the school vacations make such a difference in terms of sales-tax revenue, said Judy Camp, Vail’s finance director. (However, Vail’s overall 2008 budget projects an increase in revenue due to many project completions in the village.)

Meanwhile, the ski resorts are continuing their spring bashes, although some are taking a slightly different approach. Breckenridge’s Spring Massive may have a world market flair, and Spring Back to Vail will pack in its usual two weeks of activities and headliners into one week.

Vail spokeswoman Jen Brown doesn’t think the early Easter will affect business due to traditionally good snow conditions and the fact that Vail still draws international visitors during that time.

Mike Hessel, owner of Peak Property Manager in Breckenridge, understands concerns about an early Easter but sees it as “a kind of neat opportunity” because he can offer peak rates during the second week of March and then drop rates significantly to bring more people into town.

“I think it’s an opportunity ” a cheap way for people to come out here and experience April, because April’s awesome out here,” Hessel said.

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