Lot of snow in Vail could balance bleak economy | VailDaily.com

Lot of snow in Vail could balance bleak economy

Tanya Canino
Sierra Sun
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado ” Consumers are sitting on the sidelines and discretionary spending is down ” neither situation is good news for mountain resorts like Vail, Colorado that are eyeing the 2008-09 ski season. However, there is one variable that could change everything: snow.

“Snow trumps all evils,” said Ralf Garrison in this weeks’ Mountain Travel Symposium 2008-09 Travel Outlook.

Despite the gloomy economic indicators, if there was a choice between a good economy or snow, choose snow, said Garrison, principal of the Mountain Travel Research Project, which provided data for the symposium.

Snow is vital, as last ski season the National Ski Areas Association reported a record 60.5 million skier and boarder visits despite a slowing economy.

“Snow is the key that unlocks the paradoxes,” Garrison said, adding that it is not just the cold, white stuff on the ground which is the draw, but the “snow mentality.”

“Snow is more than weather, it is a state of mind,” he said. “As people decide what to do with their time and money, they are going to do what they are passionate about.”

The key for ski and mountain destinations trying to survive in what is shaping up as a flat year is to change skiers’ perceptions and convince them that their vacation is needed.

Arthur Cassidy, a social psychologist, said there is an idea that when you’re not feeling good about life, you need to take care of yourself.

Vacations then become “doctor’s orders,” Garrison explained.

Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, in a recent full page newspaper ad, caught this mentality with copy that says “… freedom and wind outlast hard times, and the rumble of an engine drowns out all the spin on the evening news … so screw it, let’s ride.”

After their sales initially dropped, they have leveled out, because Harley-Davidson found the way to get to the heart and passion of their market, Garrison said.

Harley Davidson reminded its market that their motorcycles are not discretionary, a good tactic, because as spending drops, discretionary spending is hit the worst.

“We fall prey to that at least as long as we fail to challenge that a ski or mountain vacation is discretionary,” Garrison said. “We might organize ourselves as a want or even a need.”

Among the most troubling results for ski resorts of the nation’s economic troubles is an all-time low in consumer confidence, Garrison said.

The Consumer Confidence Index, released on Tuesday, is 60.8 percent below October 2007, and dropped 23.4 points since last quarter, the largest drop ever. Seventy percent of the nation’s gross domestic product is consumer spending.

“In the last eight months, we’ve begun the death spiral (in spending),” Garrison said.

For mountain resorts, as of Sept. 30, the Mountain Travel Research Project shows that occupancy is down 11.1 percent for November through March. Last year, it was down 2.7 percent in those winter months.

In this type of economic climate, value and loyalty are two key factors for resorts.

“Consumers must spend to support the economy, and our carrot is the ski vacation,” Garrison said.

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