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Rapid change a given now

Kaye Ferry

It’s a busy time of year. But publicly things seem a little quiet because a lot’s going on behind the scenes. So it’s a good time to catch up on old news.On Sept. 29, I served as part of a panel discussing how to promote summer business in mountain resorts. It was the 2006 Mountain Real Estate Update Conference, sponsored by the Franklin Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management at the University of Denver. I agreed because they were interested in the Vail viewpoint, particularly since the event was being held at the Manor Vail Resort.These are normally the kind of events that I look forward to with dread. The session was scheduled to run from 7:30-12:30. The fee was $120 to attend and provided four hours of continuing education credit. The group was diverse – real estate developers, brokers, owners, architects, attorneys, lenders, marketing gurus, students and a wide variety of business representatives. Much to my surprise, it was one of the very best conferences I have ever attended, and I’ve been to more than my fair share.To begin with, it ran like a clock. Boom, boom. No one missed a beat. Everyone and everything was on time and all speakers kept to the schedule, a feat in itself facilitated by Mark Levine, director of DU.The first speaker was Ralf Garrison, industry analyst with the Advisory Group of Denver and director of MTRiP, which tracks the destination mountain travel industry.If you ever have a chance to hear him, don’t pass it up. He’s a wealth of information and very entertaining. I wish I could give you a complete account of his comments, but instead I’ll have to hit a few of the more interesting ones.He began by saying that full-time residents and second-home owners’ interests are both merging and aging. With that comes more interest in the arts, comfort and wellness. There is the move from using properties on a part-time basis to a more permanent retirement residence. Resorts are reporting more demands for urbanization, which is putting pressure on the character of mountain communities. It is also causing resorts to become more real estate-driven as people increasingly become “itinerant residents” as they chase their dream lifestyle.While technology is driving change faster than we can adapt, the pace of change is accelerating even faster. All of this is proving to be disruptive to the travel industry because the old rules no longer apply.Yet although the leisure travel industry has recovered from the 9/11 influences, business travel has not. New patterns were established after 9/11, and many of them have been maintained with a new business model slowly emerging.Other changes are in the methods used for vacation planning and the duration of the stays. Internet access has greatly affected typical lead times, with reservations being made much closer to departure date and shorter, more frequent vacations becoming the norm.The next part of the program centered on cultural, health and economic impacts and was turned over to John Dakin, vice president of communications, Vail Valley Foundation; Rob Schwartz, director of resort services at Copper Mountain; and Bob Howe, president of Title Co. of the Rockies.The big question for this group was whether tourism drives events or events drive tourism, clearly the chicken-or-egg dilemma. In Vail at least, the cultural destination traveler is often in competition with sports-driven events, which don’t necessarily provide the best financial return for producers.All agreed that the first challenge right now is to put the new tourism dollars to work in making Colorado the first choice for the traveling guest. It is then up to each resort to create the allure of their mountain vacation experience.Part three was moderated by Joe Whitehouse, regional vice president of Intrawest with chamber director panelists who included Catherine Ross, Winter Park; Corry Mihm, Breckenridge; Kathleen Kennedy, Frisco; and me. With the topic of “Ski in the Winter and Stay All Summer,” our input revolved around three issues: Describe current efforts to drive your summer economy. What plans do you have to grow your summer economy and is it sustainable? How might we work together as a whole to grow our summer business?As you can imagine, with four of us, the answers were all over the place, with each giving specific plans for the coming summer in their respective resorts. The consensus again, as with the second group, was that the new dollars being rolled into tourism at the state level was optimistically expected to make a huge difference for all of the state.The final presentation was made by Ford Frick, managing director of BBC Consulting and Research in Denver. Frick is well known to the community as a highly regarded analyst in the resort business and has spoken at many meetings in Vail throughout the years. He specializes in public and private resort and recreation development economics, business valuation, strategic planning and financial feasibility analysis.He verified the changing nature of the ski industry. While the center activity of mountain resorts used to be teaching skiing, now it’s about a lifestyle with real estate being the glue. There is a diverse quality of life that is the current goal, which grew out of an initial connection to skiing. Change is not only inevitable, it needs to be embraced and managed.One particular comment made by Raif Garrison that raised a chuckle in the room was that there seems to be a tendency of the founders of these resorts to want to “embalm these mountain towns. The reality is that these markets are changing even faster than in urban areas.”Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Commentary” or search for keyword “ferry.” Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily. Vail, Colorado


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