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Vail lodging traffic ahead of industry

Lauren Glendenning
lglendenning@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyGuests sip coffee while reading the paper in the lobby of the Vail Plaza Hotel in Vail Village.
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VAIL, Colorado –Orbitz.com ranks Vail fourth in its recent top 10 ski destinations list, ranking Lake Tahoe as the most popular U.S. ski destination this winter.

The list isn’t the best indicator, though, of Vail’s popularity compared to other ski destinations across the country. The latest Mountain Travel Research Program, or MTrip, data shows Vail is doing much better in bookings than the ski resort industry as a whole. The town of Vail’s economic development department tracks Vail’s lodging numbers with a sample of 20 properties, or 59 percent of the total inventory.

For the month of December, the data shows Vail’s occupancy rates were up 7.9 percent over December of 2008, while the ski industry as a whole showed a 2.3 percent decline in occupancies for the same month.

That being said, the amount of money made on each rented room or condo in Vail was 8.8 percent less than it was in December of 2008, meaning rates are lower.

Ralf Garrison, who works with MTrip but commented as a consultant with Advisory Group INC, said the Orbitz.com ranking isn’t representative of the overall skier population or the Vail tourist population.

“I would pay less attention to it than I would other communities that are more targeted,” Garrison said.

Bargain shoppers tend to use sites like Orbitz.com and Expedia.com, or other travel sites that market themselves as money-savers – not exactly the type of guests looking to vacation in Vail, Garrison said.

While everyone is a bargain-shopper to some extent these days, the sites’ sample sizes are too small to rely on such top-10 lists as valid indicators of popularity or success, Garrison said.

In last fall’s vaunted SKI magazine resort rankings, Vail came in at No. 3 after several years of taking the top or second spot. SKI Magazine is greared toward wealthier skiers.

Vail’s future bookings for February, March and April are higher than the industry as a whole, however rates seem to be lower than the industry as a whole, according to Vail and Mtrip data. The hotels are essentially buying their guests, something Garrision predicted at a presentation to the Vail Economic Advisory Council late last year.

Vail and Beaver Creek have the benefit of having very strong brands, said Chris Romer, marketing director of the Vail Valley Partnership – and a strong brand is better than a ranking on some arbitrary list of top spots, Garrison said.

Resorts’ reputations are in the eyes of the beholder, Garrison said. Third party influence, things like comments and reviews about resorts on various Web sites, don’t hold as much weight when the resort already has a strong brand, he said.

“The power of the brand is more likely to mitigate the other responses that are out there,” Garrison said. “So (Vail and Beaver Creek) are a little more thick-skinned because they have such a strong brand.”

Romer said Vail Resorts has the advantage of being its own “marketing machine,” meaning the company can promote itself and drive Web traffic and bookings directly to its sites, and away from sites like Orbitz.com.

As consumers dictate the way value is gauged via blogs, comments, reviews and other online means, resorts can no longer just “talk the talk,” Garrison said, referring to resorts’ advertisements and marketing messages.

Resorts now have to deliver, because people talk and what they say gets around a lot faster, farther and easier than it ever has before, Garrison said.

“They now have to walk the walk,” Garrison said.

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


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