Vail Daily column: Groups key to summer, fall tourism growth
Vail, Beaver Creek, the Vail Local Marketing District, the Beaver Creek Resort Company and numerous other stakeholders including the Vail Valley Foundation and Vail Resorts have done an incredible job of growing special events into a major destination draw throughout the year, but especially during our non-ski months.The growth of special events is important as these events help drive overnight lodging and guest spending (the average summer event attendee spends $1,150 during their visit to Eagle County), thus driving sales tax revenues to our municipalities. These events enhance our brand and enhance the guest experience, giving people a reason to visit us and helping to create “brand ambassadors.”Special events tend to be weekend oriented, creating a vibrant weekend community and increased lodging occupancies and filling our sales tax coffers. However, events are only one part of our continued growth as a tourism destination. Our challenge is, and has been since time eternal, how to drive mid-week (Sunday through Wednesday nights) destination guests to our valley during the non-ski months.This isn’t a call for a conference center – we’ve been there, done that and the voters have spoken. However, it is a call to remember the importance of groups and meetings to our tourism economy and to help make the case for groups and meetings to fuel our summer and fall tourism growth and filling the mid-week lodging occupancies that have existed from the beginning of Vail and Beaver Creek.The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy study reveals that the U.S. meetings industry directly supports 1.7 million jobs, $263 billion in spending, a $106 billion contribution to GDP, $60 billion in labor revenue, $14.3 billion in federal tax revenue and $11.3 billion in state and local tax revenue.Our small piece of the meetings industry pie has significant impact on our local economy and tourism infrastructure. Numerous businesses depend directly on meeting business and group travel including audio-visual companies and destination management companies (among many others). Many other businesses are heavily reliant on meetings and group travel to make the difference between a decent season and annual growth, including transportation providers, activity providers and restaurants. In many ways, in regards to our lodging infrastructure, we’ve built the proverbial church for Easter Sunday. Our valley is home to more than 8,300 short-term lodging rooms (including hotels and condominiums), many located at properties with meeting space. Doing a simple calculation of 8,300 rooms for rent times approximately 150 days from June-October (our real group & meeting opportunity time) shows that we have more than 1.2 million rooms to fill during the non-ski months. Even when accounting for the leisure sales demand and special event demand, we have an incredible opportunity to drive business to our lodges, and other businesses, via the group & meeting market.The Vail Valley Partnership, on behalf of the community we serve, keeps busy by having our group sales team promote our destination to meeting planners across the country. We attend over 30 meeting industry trade shows and host meeting planner client events in important feeder markets including Denver, Chicago, Dallas and more. We partner with the lodging community and local stakeholder groups to bring more meetings, more groups and more people to the Vail Valley year-round – with a special focus on the non-ski months and on mid-week business.From familiarization tours to national sales partners, from in-market events to trade show attendance, we’re doing our very best to drive home the message that “Meetings Mean Business” and that the Vail Valley is open for business. The Partnership’s sales efforts, including event and group sales, will result in over $55 million in direct expenditures in the valley in 2012.It’s our goal to increase this number in future years by building on our successes and increasing the mid-week group business. After all, groups and meetings are essential to our growth as a tourism destination.What can your business do to help? If you benefit from our destination marketing and group sales efforts, get off the sidelines and join the Vail Valley Partnership. If you are already a member, tell your neighbors to join to help us do more here in the valley. Stay tuned for new benefits of how we will promote our member businesses directly to the group and meeting market.Chris Romer is executive director of the Vail Valley Partnership.