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Corporate clients booking Vail lodges

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VAIL, Colorado – Derek Rundell knows about Vail – in fact, he owns a condo in town. That’s why Rundell, the founder of Intern Inc., a web-based employment site, was thrilled to come to a conference here June 11 and 12.

That conference brought together more than 60 representatives of companies in the TomorrowVentures investment portfolio.

The group mostly stayed at The Sebastian Hotel in Vail Village, although Rundell said he had a few people staying at his condo.

“It’s cool to see other people enjoy the valley,” Rundell said. “And events like this give people a chance to share their war stories with each other. We’ll talk about the good, the bad and then go rafting.”

The TomorrowVentures group is one of many that booked rooms in Vail in May and June. Many of those groups don’t want undue publicity – when asked what groups had been at their lodges recently, representatives of two local hotel companies said they’d rather not name names.

But the fact is that groups, from weddings to relatively small get-togethers such as TomorrowVentures to hotel-filling groups from Fortune 500 companies, keep people working at lodges, restaurants and shops in the valley.

Corporate group business took a hit starting in 2008, when the world’s financial system suffered a major downturn. “Corporate excess” became an issue in that year’s presidential campaign, and many public companies turned skittish about hosting retreats and meetings.

“Our bookings in 2009 and ’10 weren’t what we wanted to see and weren’t what we’re capable of doing,” said Kirsten Texler, of the Cascade Resort and Spa in Vail. But that business has been returning, Texler said. There are a couple of groups that will fill the hotel this summer, and the Cascade, which was remodeled with group business in mind, has several weekends booked with multiple groups occupying rooms and meeting space.

Annie Lynch, marketing director for The Sebastian, said booking reports for Vail show an increase in business for the valley as a whole.

But business isn’t just coming back. Many of the valley’s bigger hotels have dedicated sales teams who target and contact potential clients.

At The Sebastian, the sales team has targeted corporate groups, particularly in the financial and pharmaceutical industries.

And those groups are welcome any time.

“Groups are welcome all year,” Lynch said. “It’s just a matter of rate.”

And it’s rates that make the Vail Valley a good bet for corporate clients.

“The peak time for meeting business is April, May and until mid-June,” said Pete Hayda, the regional director of sales and marketing for RockResorts hotels.

Since that’s traditionally slack time for mountain-resort hotels, Hayda said rates can be half what they are in downtown Denver during those periods.

Hayda said group business gives resort hotels a base of guests during the shoulder seasons and allows those hotels to keep their rates for regular travelers a bit higher than they would be otherwise.

“We’re able to manage our room inventory better with that base (of group business),” Hayda said.

Group business also allows hotels to keep people working, something that can help other businesses in town.

“We’d love to see enough business to convince people around town to stay open year round, or at least not close for as long as they do now,” Hayda said.

Beyond the value, groups coming to Vail give participants a chance to get into different environments than those in which they usually work. Texler said the Cascade can set up creekside dinners and other activities that let conference participants see some of the mountains once they’re done in the meeting rooms.

“Stepping out of our everyday work in a beautiful environment gives us a new perspective,” Rundell said. “That mind set is a huge benefit.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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