Should Vail Valley ‘focus on tourism’?
VAIL, Colorado – With the Vail Valley real estate and construction slumping, some valley residents say a renewed focus on tourism will give the valley’s economy a spark. But what would that focus look like?Rich tenBraak doesn’t believe in silver bullets. But tenBraak, the director of the Vail Chamber & Business Association, thinks special events can play a significant role in bringing tourists into Vail and the valley.If people start to believe “there’s always something going on in Vail,” then people will come. And if people come to Vail, businesses can find ways to get those people into stores and restaurants.The Vail Chamber last summer sponsored three events, one each in June, July and August. But tenBraak believes there’s room for more. An auto buff, tenBraak said he can see Vail as a place that could be attractive to automakers for new-car introductions – once those companies are actually selling cars again. Or Vail could be a great setting for a classic-car event like the Barrett-Jackson auctions held around the country.Still, tenBraak said, events alone won’t give Vail the kind of vitality it’s looking for in the future.”We need to do a lot of things to bring tourists to town and make Vail attractive to professionals and people with families,” he said.
Don Cohen believes a big part of the valley’s tourism future will come from a focus on health and healing. Cohen, who heads the Economic Council of Eagle County, draws a paycheck for researching trends and thinking about how they might apply to the Vail Valley. The more he looks at “medical tourism,” the more he believes it’s the next big thing in the resort business. “Some people are skeptical about it, but if you already have a resort that caters to providing people with a great experience, it’s a natural,” Cohen said.”Colorado is the healthiest state in the country, and Eagle County is one of the healthiest counties in the state,” Cohen said. That makes the valley a great place for medical conferences, sports and performance clinics and nutrition centers, he added. The Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in Vail already draws some of the biggest stars in sports to Vail for surgery and treatment, and Cohen believes it’s not a big leap to imagine that people would come from other countries for those services.Cohen said he knows a young woman who used to work at a Vail Village restaurant not far from Vail Valley Medical Center. She’s told him about families – many from Mexico – who willingly run up dinner and bar tabs with commas as well as decimal points between the numbers. “With a little push in marketing, they’d come to Vail for surgery, then come back to ski or golf,” Cohen said.As baby boomers continue to age, Cohen said there’s going to an increased interest in – and money spent on – living longer, healthier lives.The upshot of that demand, if the valley capitalizes on it, could be an influx of people working in relatively high-paying jobs, which they’ll need to pay for homes that are still more expensive than most places in the country.
While people are thinking about what could replace real estate in the local economy, Cohen believes that the Vail Valley is still going to draw wealthy home buyers. But, he added, the homes they buy may look quite a bit different than the giant slopeside homes that kept so many people busy for so much of the past decade.”Luxury will look different over the next few years,” he said. Instead of 10,000 square-foot mansions, Cohen says, wealthy people may be drawn more toward smaller homes that still have all the luxury touches they expect.That means the local construction industry is going to look different than it did in, say, 2007.And Rob Katz isn’t quite ready to give up on real estate. Katz, the CEO of Vail Resorts, said that company believes in real estate, but is careful about how, when and where it’s going to build.”We talk all the time about not being either/or in terms of focusing on tourism versus real estate,” Katz said. Katz said real estate sales are an important way to pay for improvements on the ski hills and the base villages. But those improvements, from the ice rink at Beaver Creek to the planned public parking at the proposed Ever Vail project, benefit all of a resort’s visitors, not just the people buying expensive condos or slopeside homes.”We could see Ever Vail as a real estate development – and it is,” Katz said. “But it offers so much more,” from parking to another portal to the mountain to a recreation center and amphitheater, he said. Katz said the Arrabelle at Vail Square project – completed in early 2008 – is a good example of real estate that helps cater to tourists. The Arrabelle was recently ranked seventh on a Conde Nast top-100 list of resort hotels.”For us, the Arrabelle is a real estate deal,” Katz said. “But that number-seven ranking on the Conde Nast list is about tourism.”Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.