Can Vail ever have success with Memorial Day events?
There’s nothing this year, of course, but a big summer might prompt new ideas
The Memorial Day holiday is seen as the unofficial start to the summer travel season, but not so much in Vail. Could that change in the wake of what’s expected to be a busy travel summer?
With Eagle County’s public health order lifted only recently, there wasn’t any time to stage an event on such short notice. But those involved in creating Vail’s event portfolio say they’re still looking at what might boost Memorial Day business.
Weather is the biggest wild card for Memorial Day. This weekend’s weather forecast calls for warm, dry conditions. But Memorial Day at 8,100 feet is just as likely to bring rain or snow.
“Weather’s predominantly a predictor of whether a weekend’s going to be busy,” Vail Chamber & Business Association Director Alison Wadey said. “It could snow a foot.”
Local tourism boosters over the years have tried everything from food events to sporting events, but weather seems to always have an impact. The current GoPro Mountain Games moved into June several years ago for just that reason.
Too early for trails
Wadey noted that many of the hiking and biking trails are still closed in the upper valley. That means lower, warmer and drier areas — including Fruita and Moab — tend to get hiking and cycling guests. Those same visitors head toward higher, cooler areas as summer heats up, Wadey said.
Besides weather, the school year in many states doesn’t end until June. Wadey said that means any successful Memorial Day event should probably focus on markets within close driving range.
But many travelers in last year’s pandemic summer seemed willing to drive longer distances for a mountain escape. Many guests drove 1,000 miles or more.
Wadey said those longer drives would often equate to longer stays, particularly with more people working remotely.
Vail Economic Development Director Mia Vlaar said current booking trends show people are “tip-toeing into summer,” continuing the longtime pattern of booking closer to their travel dates.
“People tend to hang on, wait, watch the weather then go,” Vlaar said.
But, Wadey noted, short-term rental websites and some lodges are offering better rates for longer stays.
But what might that mean for more event-filled Memorial Day holidays in the future?
Vlaar noted that Vail’s successful summer in 2020 showed that “Vail is a wonderful place to be even when there aren’t any events.”
The challenge, she noted, is finding events that can go rain — or snow — or shine.
Is a facility needed?
Mark Gordon, a Vail business owner and member of the Vail Economic Advisory Committee, said that problem could be addressed in large part if the town had a good performing arts center.
Gordon said Dobson Ice Arena can be an adequate venue, but there’s always the challenge of running events versus providing ice time for various local users.
Gordon said he’s been “disappointed” with previous attempts at successful Memorial Day events. But, he added, he believes the right event has a lot of potential.
“It needs to be a mix of indoors and outdoors,” Gordon said.
There’s been some success with restaurant weeks in the spring and fall. Wadey said a spring event in 2019 showed promise, only to be short-circuited by the 2020 pandemic.
Still, Gordon said, restaurant weeks tend not to be big events. But, he added, “Maybe we should keep our sights modest.”
Despite a lack of events this weekend, Vlaar noted there will be a lot of summer entertainment in the resort villages similar to the entertainment presented in 2020. Those small-scale performances proved popular, particularly combined with opening up the town’s liquor laws to allow people to wander the villages with drinks in hand.
Those expanded laws — possible thanks to liquor law exemptions from the state — may disappear this summer, although there’s some hope for legislative relief.
It will be a year, at least, before any Memorial Day events return, including Beaver Creek’s popular Brews Blues & Barbecue.
But the outlook for the rest of the summer seems bright.
“It’s going to be a great summer,” Gordon said. “If we’re being smart, being cautious, it’ll be fine.”
Memorial Day is a holiday with somber roots. According to history.com, the holiday began as Decoration Day, a day to decorate the graves of the nation’s Civil War dead.
It became an official federal holiday in 1971.
So take a moment this weekend to ponder the sacrifice those who died in service of our country.