DSC Destination Services celebrates 30 years
A big impact
According to “Successful Meetings,” magazine, DSC Destination Services has had a big impact on Colorado. From 1997 through 2015, the company’s economic impact looks like this, just in Colorado:
• More than $100 million in revenue has gone into local Colorado businesses.
• Colorado Mountain Resorts (Vail, Beaver Creek and Aspen), $25 million
• Colorado Springs, $50 million.
• Denver, $25 million.
• From 1986-1996, the company put approximately $8.5 million of revenue back into the Vail community.
EAGLE COUNTY — Big hair and neon ski gear were the rage in 1986, and, compared to today, the idea of group business at ski resorts was more of a vague notion than part of a business plan.
That’s the business Kathy Fort Carty went into when she pulled together $2,500 to buy the Destination Services Corporation — now DSC Destination Services — from its original owner. Fort Carty knew about the transportation side of group business — she’s one of the founders of Colorado Mountain Express — but that was about it.
Still, the group business market was starting to grow. Company CEOs who had second homes in the valley thought this might be a good place to bring clients or others. Fort Carty saw a risk worth taking.
Back then, Fort Carty was a one-woman show, meeting with clients, showing off the Vail Valley and putting together lodging, dining and entertainment packages for groups.
“There were a lot of nights I slept on the office floor,” Fort Carty said.
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Destination Services grew slowly, with Fort Carty relying on her hotel and other partners for guidance. The people at Vail Associates — now Vail Resorts — were a big help, too, providing help putting together packages through the ski school and other services.
“It was a tight-knit community,” Fort Carty said. “People were willing to help if I asked.”
After nearly a decade of slow, steady growth, opportunity knocked in a big way.
“I got a call from the Broadmoor (hotel in Colorado Springs) asking for support,” Fort Carty said. “They were looking to get into group business, I got the deal and our business doubled overnight.
That experience is what Fort Carty calls “earning my MBA.” She had to learn, and quickly, about working on a much larger scale. Bookings went from 100 to 200 people in the Vail Valley to groups that filled much of the Broadmoor’s 700-room capacity.
But Fort Carty’s team had experience in the Vail Valley with groups that expect a lot when booking several nights of lodging, dining and entertainment in a resort town.
For several years, people from the Showtime TV network came to the Sonnenalp Hotel in Vail during peak season.
“That’s a high-end group with high expectations,” Fort Carty said. Showtime and similar groups helped pave the way for the coming decades.
From weddings to class reunions to corporate retreats, group bookings involve more than just making hotel reservations. Particularly big corporate meetings can take months to pull together. Destination marketing companies play a big role in helping those groups find a place to meet, and occupy their time over the course of a few to several days.
The Vail Valley Partnership has a group booking division that seeks out and sells the valley to all kinds of groups. Partnership CEO Chris Romer wrote in an email that companies like DSC are “vital” to the group business industry.
“They provide high levels of service, and have built-in clientele that drives new and repeat business,” Romer wrote.
The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon has its own group-business people who sell the resort. But hotel director of sales and marketing Chris Cofelice said DSC and similar companies are an essential addition to the in-house efforts.
As DSC’s business built through the 1990s and into the 2000s, DSC expanded, and expanded into different markets. By 2008, the company had offices in Denver, Colorado Springs and the Lake Tahoe area in California and Nevada.
Then, of course, the world’s financial industry fell apart. So did a big part of the group business industry.
“That was a blow I don’t think any of us were prepared for,” Fort Carty said. “I had to really understand where to trim.”
Those were tough years, requiring Fort Carty to once again put her own money into the business.
Today, DSC’s business is ahead of where it was in 2007. But the company has also added offices in Salt Lake City, Park City and Jackson Hole.
DSC and similar companies also face a different business landscape. Thanks to the internet, corporate planners can do a good bit of research on various destinations before they begin negotiating. That’s good in some ways, Fort Carty said.
But, she added, “Corporate clients who want to invest in a true destination consultant still find value in what we do,” she said. “They’re coming to us, asking what their experiences can be in the winter. They’re asking us to design their experience for them and asking ‘How do we top what we did last year in the Caribbean?’”
But, with even big companies taking a sharper look at costs, a destination service company has to deliver a lot.
Fort Carty said she’s proud that DSC is able to do that. And, 30 years later, she’s also proud in the role she and her company have played in building the Vail Valley as a resort outside the winter months.
“We’ve been on the ground floor of building the Vail Valley as an attractive group destination — it wasn’t that way 30 years ago,” she said. “We’ve been able to make an impact on how the state is viewed, too.”
While the here and now, still occupies most of Fort Carty’s time, she does have some time to reflect on the past and future.
The company has declared its 30th year as its “Year of Gratitude.” But it’s hard to tell where opportunity might lead Fort Carty in the next decade.
“As an entrepreneur I always keep my ear to the ground,” she said. “But we live in a beautiful place… there’s great balance in my life.”