Shift seen in local Vail-area economy |

Shift seen in local Vail-area economy

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado
NWS Toursits DT 8-6-10

VAIL, Colorado – Tourism is the underlying economic engine that sustains this valley.

That’s what Ralf Garrison, director of the Mountain Research Travel Symposium, said at the recent Vail Valley Business Forum, and he’s not the first to bring up the topic in recent months.

While the valley thrived in recent years because of real estate, it’s not a sustainable economy over the long-term, Garrison said – and the national recession proves this is true nationwide.

Beth Slifer, chair of the Vail Local Marketing District Advisory Board, has been running with the idea that Vail needs to bring in more destination business throughout the entire year in order to sustain a strong economy. Real estate isn’t going to keep things afloat anymore.

“I think everyone in the county is more cognizant than ever, that it’s not real estate or construction, it’s tourism that supports this county,” Slifer said at a small gathering with Gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper last week.

Back to our roots

Tourism was the primary economic driver in the valley through the 1980s and early 1990s, Garrison said. It was also the very economy in which the valley and Vail Mountain was founded.

“But the effects of baby boomers affording second homes started driving the real estate market,” Garrison said.

And it was the appreciation of those homes that kept the market booming, but over the long-term it became very obvious that it wasn’t able to be sustained, he said.

“At the end of the day, we need an economic foundation that is more sustainable over the long term,” Garrison said.

Tourism is something that connects the entire state of Colorado, said Kelly Jean Brough, president and chief executive office of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. It’s going to see the benefits if the state markets and capitalizes on tourism correctly, she said.

“Tourism drives all of our businesses,” Brough said. “We have a state that sells.”

In a sluggish economy, however, the state won’t necessarily sell itself. Brough believes large-scale events, such as the Democratic National Convention, is one way to showcase Colorado to the world and bring business here.

Once people come for an event or as a tourist, they might be more inclined to relocate businesses here, or start businesses here.

The Vail Valley Partnership’s Chris Romer said the immediate future, the next three to seven years, will require a shift to economic development by tourism.

“This shift will likely require greater collaboration between various stakeholders – county, towns, recreation districts, etc. – in order to utilize our infrastructure,” Romer said. “We have immense potential to grow our summer and fall business via groups, events and tournaments. Recent examples the Vail Valley Partnership have recruited include the IronKids event, and a program called Tough Mudder, scheduled in Beaver Creek next summer.”


Second homes are seasonal by nature, as the homeowners spend only part of their time in their second homes, meaning they’re only pumping money into the local economy part of the time.

The seasonal nature of ski resorts brings some disparity to the notion that the valley needs a sustainable year-round economy, Garrison said.

“We need to be able to support the people and the businesses that fuel our winter tourism business,” Garrison said. “If we can’t keep people busy all year long, then they aren’t there to provide the excellent service to the winter guest.”

Excellent service is something both the town of Vail and Vail Resorts have not let go of even as revenues are way down compared to the boom years. Both have slashed everything from jobs to benefits, but neither have cut from guest services, saying the tourists in town receiving those services are too valuable to risk losing.

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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