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Vail hopes for happier guests

Lauren Glendenning
lglendenning@vaildaily.com

Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail Daily file photoSteve Nelligan, center, from Denver, stores his skis with Chad Anderson, right, of Arrabelle Ski Valet, atthe base of the gondola in Vail, Colorado earlier this ski season
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VAIL, Colorado –When the Vail Town Council heard that Vail was criticized for having “too much attitude” in Ski Magazine’s resort ranking poll, the town pushed for a look at its guest services and how to improve them.

Councilman Andy Daly said at Tuesday’s visioning meeting that people’s perception of Vail is critical to its success, and “too much attitude” isn’t something he wants associated with Vail.

Since the most recent Ski Magazine resort rankings came out, which placed Vail in the No. 3 spot overall, the town has paired up with Vail Mountain Operations to get weekly reports in four guest service categories: ease of parking, the timelines of buses, the friendliness/helpfulness of bus drivers and guest service personnel.

Vail Mountain surveyors use hand-held survey machines and electronically record about 200 surveys every week. The most recent results, for the week of Jan. 3-10, show most categories are generally on the rise in terms of satisfaction. Drops in satisfaction are seen mostly during busy holiday weeks.

Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Rob Katz told the Vail Town Council Tuesday night that the company is committed to guest services, noting that Vail Mountain recorded its highest marks ever in its company’s own surveys for that category in the 2008-09 winter season.

Liz Biebl, spokeswoman for Vail Mountain, said the company looks at guest services on Vail Mountain in terms of all the departments that interact with guests, which it measures through surveys.

Katz said that now, more than ever, guest services are crucial.

“This is the lowest snow year since 1980,” Katz said. “We all know that presents huge challenges in terms of guest experience.”

Councilwoman Margaret Rogers said Vail Mountain’s grooming this winter has been amazing, considering that challenge.

“Seeing what they’ve been able to do with what little snow we’ve had is nothing short of remarkable,” Rogers said.

Vail Town Council members have recognized that guests don’t typically distinguish the town from the resort – Vail is Vail – so the partnership with Vail Resorts is critical to what both sides want to be a seamless experience for guests.

Town Council members also recognized that the perceived relationship problems between Vail Resorts and the town of Vail need to improve. Daly said the friction tends to be more with Vail Resorts Development Company, whereas the town’s relationship with Vail Mountain Operations is “very good,” Daly said.

At the Town Council’s December retreat, Town Manager Stan Zemler recognized guest services as a weakness for the town, but added there’s a lot of opportunity to improve satisfaction in the category.

The town is in its sixth week of an internal rewards program – town employees nominate other employees for any behavior that goes above and beyond their job descriptions and receive various prizes, said Assistant Town Manager Pam Brandmeyer.

“We have 20 nominees this week alone,” Brandmeyer said. “It’s been very interesting – internally we’re starting to see employees begin to recognize some neat things going on.”

Town residents are noticing the extra effort, too. Brandmeyer said calls have been coming in to recognize town bus drivers and the town also received a letter commending town employee Sally Lorton from the finance department.

Brandmeyer said the town’s goal is to enhance the level of customer service it provides. She said the town is taking baby steps – the program is only internal, for now, because it got off to a late start, she said.

Ideas are all across the board in terms of ways the town can improve the perceived bad attitude in Vail – Daly said more signs throughout town can help the guest experience, and Rogers suggested to “get them through their stomachs” by passing out free hot chocolate.

Parking is another area where the town and Vail Resorts are trying to come to a compromise – the ski company’s Ever Vail project application would add about 400 public skier parking spaces to the town, but the town is looking into whether that’s going to be enough to relieve parking along the frontage roads.

Parking is a consistent topic where guest satisfaction is lacking, according to the survey results.

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or lglendenning@vaildaily.com.


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