Group business is growing in the Vail Valley | VailDaily.com

Group business is growing in the Vail Valley

EAGLE COUNTY — Anyone who's been to our valley's resort villages the past few years knows that weekend business ranges from steady to nearly full. To grow guest numbers in the valley will require getting more people to stay between Sunday and Wednesday night. And that means group business.

The term "group" covers a broad spectrum, and ranges from corporate meetings to gatherings of professional associations to weddings. There's good news on all those fronts this year.

After dipping in 2015, group business is back on the rise. The Vail Valley Partnership has a group-business division, and a team of people whose job is to bring those groups here. For this year so far, room nights for group business are up 26 percent over 2015, a number that surpasses 2014's business.

"We've got a really good story to tell from a group business standpoint," Vail Valley Partnership CEO Chris Romer said. "Our occupancy is up almost every day."

What that means is that business is growing beyond the weekends. And, as opposed to weekend business where there's little room for growth, weekday business remains an opportunity.

Value in the valley

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While groups come to the Vail Valley all year, the sale may be a little easier in the spring, summer and fall. During those seasons, weekday room rates in Vail are generally much less expensive than rooms at similar hotels in the Denver area.

But, Romer said, rooms in Keystone or Snowmass are less expensive than Vail. That's why people selling the valley to groups don't really focus on price.

"The story is leading with the brand," Romer said. That means focusing on the Vail Valley experience, from new Epic Discovery activities on Vail Mountain to free concerts to fishing, hiking and cycling.

That focus on what a destination can do for a group is essential in the group-sales world.

"The job of every planner is to look good to attendees," Romer said. "Our job is to align with activities and experiences that make (planners) look good."

And, when a group comes, those people may want to return on their own, or bring the group back again.

DSC Destination Services founder Kathy Fort Carty recalled a recent trip to Beaver Creek her company arranged for a company in the health, wellness and fitness business. The group was here on a short stay, but stayed at Beaver Creek, rafted in Glenwood Canyon, then had a barbecue at Bair Ranch on the east end of the canyon.

About the time dessert was served, those clients said they're coming back.

The Vail Valley Partnership's people working the group business channel aren't alone in pitching the virtues of the valley.

Chris Cofelice, the sales and marketing director for The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon, said that hotel works with partnership representatives, as well as representatives from within The Westin's broader corporate organization.

Cofelice said the current growth is coming from both groups booking both months and weeks in advance of their travel dates. Some of The Westin's business, though, comes thanks to a renovation project at the Vail Cascade hotel. That hotel, now under new ownership, is closed until later this year, meaning a number of groups had to find new spaces. Cofelice said The Westin landed a couple of those groups.

But, he added, there's still growth potential in the Sunday-through-Wednesday portion of the calendar.

Our valley's appeal

What's driving the current growth?

Fort Carty said a number of businesses are doing pretty well now, and have sales teams that have earned incentive trips. Many of those companies are starting to turn to mountain destinations as sites for those trips.

"There's great value in the summer, amazing weather and a plethora of activities (participants) can experience," Fort Carty said.

Beyond those factors, the Vail Valley also has a good number of group-friendly hotels, Fort Carty said.

Cofelice said other group business growth part of a continuing upswing in consumer confidence. Romer agreed, saying that group business has largely recovered from a steep dive starting in about 2008, when a national economic slump first hit hard. But, Romer added, those trips look different than they did a decade ago.

"Pre-2008 there was a lot of opulence, especially with incentive trips," Romer said. "Budget wasn't really a factor then. Now groups have budgets to work with."

No matter the budget, bringing a group to the valley benefits the economy beyond the hotels.

Venture Sports owner Mike Brumbaugh said a significant part of his business throughout the year comes from groups.

"It's a big part of what we do," Brumbaugh said. While Venture Sports hasn't seen the uptick in business the lodging numbers show, Brumbaugh said he welcomes groups whenever they arrive.

Venture Sports rents bikes to a couple of local guide and rafting companies. A portion of those firms' summer business will end up in his coffers. And the spread of those dollars is broader than that.

"A bartender (who's busy) will buy a bike," Brumbaugh said. "It's good for all of us."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

By the numbers

15 percent: Decline in 2015 group room bookings from 2014.

26 percent: Increase in group room bookings over 2015.

24 percent: Increase in potential new clients over 2015.

Source: Vail Valley Partnership.