The results are in, Vail Valley summer sizzled
Despite dire predictions about the negative impacts of construction and renovations at Vail Village and Lionshead, the non-ski season of 2006 exceeded return on investment expectations and was more successful than previous years.Summer 06 results prove that Vail has come a long way since the VLMDs 1999 inception. The Council, who commissions the VLMD, and the Advisory Council, who recommends how to use lodging tax dollars to attract visitors to Vail, are to be commended for improving marketing results year-over-year and inherently, moving Vail forward.Innovation is key to being relevant in the competitive tourism market. This year, the Advisory Council hired a new ad agency, which in essence, unified the Vail brand. The communications/marketing strategy was refined and an emphasis was placed on our Front Range visitors to communicate that Vail is open for business despite the yellow construction cones scattered throughout our cobblestone streets. The Web site URL swapped thinkvail.com for vail.com to garner a greater click-through rate. The Web site also took on an updated, enticing face to better mirror the Vail winter brand and new creative was introduced to add to the appeal of Internet and print ads.The VLMDs efforts, coupled with the efforts of our many industrious merchants and lodging managers, contributed to summer 06 success and the results speak for themselves. Comparing summer 05 to summer 06, leisure lodging revenue attributed to the VLMD increased 4.4 times ($58,000 to $257,000); total leisure room nights increased four times as well (358 to 1,469) and online bookings increased 25 times (42 to 1,200). Lodging sales tax resulted in a 5.27 percent increase for the same period while total lodging dollar sales for April through Sept. 30 were up 5.7 percent.Other segments of the Vail economy improved also. Food and beverage were up 3.58 percent from summer 05 to summer 06.
The one discouraging note was the weak results in retail sales tax. So if other merchants had positive seasonal results, what factors caused the retail taxes to lag behind the lodging taxes?Lets first take a look at a few retail success stories to discover what is working. Merchants like Gorsuch, with a 40-plus year history of improving product and merchandising, experience a revenue incline almost every year. Nicole Hoffman Ewing relates increases in all categories of merchandise at the General Store in Lionshead (in spite of and partially because of the Arrabelle construction). Patti Cogswell, owner of the Squash Blossom, was elated with June results for the last two weeks in June 06, which exceeded four weeks of June 05. Luca Bruno had an extraordinarily strong non-ski season with sales up 30 percent and Rayla Kundolf at Masters Gallery at Vail also reported a healthy season. Both Masters Gallery and Luca Bruno are modest about their successes and share the credit with positive marketing and express excitement for the redevelopment of Vail. Construction, to them, is well worth the investment to see Vails Billion Dollar Renewal actualize. In fact, these merchants found ways to turn construction lemons into lemonade. Masters Gallery painted its front wall red to draw in passerbys. The gallery also welcomed the Towns and VLMDs efforts to increase signage per construction detours and appreciated the Towns attempt to soften the construction by placing construction hats on the bronze bear statutes placed outside its front door.These merchants are ambassadors of innovation and market adaptation, both key factors to maintaining vitality. This takes us back to the original question asking why retail taxes are down overall. Maybe some types of shops are too repetitive. Are there too many T-shirt shops? Maybe some stores are keeping their doors in spring, summer and fall all day every day offering consistent service to shoppers. According to the Outdoor Industry Foundations Fall 2006 Study: The Active Outdoor Recreation Economy, there is a broad national trend showing more Americans heading outdoors for active recreation. Snow sports rank second-to-last out of the top eight outdoor activities Americans seek out. This indicates a huge need for stores with other sports-related products to keep their doors open year-round for outdoor enthusiasts, especially as Vails Billion Dollar Renewal unfolds.Our merchants need more information on which to base their efforts to improve retail business in Vail. The TOV has valuable confidential data and the Council has as agreed to evaluate and share their findings on what appears to be a disconnect between the increase in lodging sales and decline in retail sales. We, at the VLMD, would like to partner with the Vail Valley Chamber & Tourism Bureau and the Vail Chamber & Business Association to help identify weak and strong points of retail sales and assist retail merchants in improving product and profits.A major attraction for resorts is a vibrant retail sector; as Vail embodies its Billion Dollar Renewal, a strong retail sector is a necessity, not a luxury. With an infusion of knowledge, guidance, motivation and inspiration, merchants can be a major factor in the overall goal of attracting more visitors and locals to Vail.Beth Slifer is chair of the Vail Local Marketing District advisory council.Vail daily, Vail, Colorado CO