Vail Resorts: ‘Pass communications cadence’ has been deliberately slow
Company says it's giving customers their space when it comes to marketing
As summer lift operations are set to begin in Vail in the coming weeks, you may be wondering, “Where are all those Epic Pass emails I usually receive with the offers and deadlines?”
Vail Resorts officials say while you’re welcome to purchase a lift pass for this summer and next ski season at any time, the decision to give customers “the space they need” has been deliberate when it comes to marketing.
“We want guests to make the decision to purchase a pass when it feels right for them, which means deliberately easing up on our pass communications cadence to relieve any pressure they are feeling at this time,” said John Plack with Vail Resorts.
The best way to get unlimited summer lift access is still a $49 deposit (you’ll be charged the remainder in September) on the pass product you plan on purchasing for next season. 2019-20 pass holders are not eligible for free scenic access on lifts, but 2019-20 pass holders will still be entitled to Epic Pass Club discounts like 20% off bike rentals this summer.
More patronage from locals
The Epic Pass Club discounts will be forgone next season for an expanded version of that offering, called Epic Mountain Rewards, which will give Epic Pass holders 20% discounts on food, lodging, lessons and rentals at Vail Resorts-owned establishments.
While the program didn’t get much mention in Vail Resorts’ June call to investors, in March CEO Rob Katz said the company had high hopes for the new discount program in 2020-21.
“Pass holders … tend to purchase less of these ancillary products than lift ticket buyers,” Katz said of food, lodging, lessons and rentals.
“Many of our local pass holders don’t have the same engagement rate with a lot of these businesses that our destination guests do,” Katz added.
Katz told investors the new discounts could provide an incentive for Epic Pass holders to engage with Vail Resorts businesses that provide food, lessons and rentals, when they haven’t before.
The new offering could also provide more opportunity for an “upsell, in the moment, in terms of buying more product,” Katz told investors.
‘Our guests deserved refunds’
In June, Katz acknowledged that Vail Resorts could not find a way to provide refunds for people who had purchased pass insurance and were unable to use their passes due to the early closure from COVID-19.
“There was really no way to do that,” he said in the company’s June call to investors. “But for next season, we felt strongly that if there are these kinds of closures again, our guests deserved refunds.”
Moving forward, Vail Resorts has done away with its existing form of insurance, where pass holders would purchase a $20 policy from a third-party provider and, provided they had proof, they could receive a cash credit for passes unused due to issues of injury, sickness, pregnancy, employer transfer, military service and other similar issues.
What the insurance did not cover — and what proved to be a point of frustration for pass holders who had purchased the insurance and weren’t able to use their passes — were unforeseen circumstances like disease and natural disaster.
The company’s new pass insurance will come standard with all passes, and will cover all of the items previously covered under the $20 plan, as well as closures due to disease, natural disaster, war and terrorism.
“We didn’t have that program in place going backwards, but we are going to have it in place going forwards,” Katz said.
Labor Day deadline
Another challenge with pass products proved to be the fact that the passes offered by Vail Resorts serve a couple of different types of users, Katz said.
“Some skiers really do want to use the pass start to finish, other skiers are buying a pass just for a particular week of the season,” Katz said.
In acknowledging the cost of the resorts’ early shutdown to pass holders, Katz said the company wanted to offer something for everyone next season, which led to the company’s offer of an 80% discount on next year’s pass products to skiers who purchased passes and did not use them last season, and a 20% discount to those who used their pass more than 10 days.
Last year’s pass holders have until Sept. 7 to take advantage of the discount being offered on next year’s passes.
“Right now, I’d say it’s a firm deadline,” Katz said of the Sept. 7 offer.
However, “it’s a deadline that we are open to adjusting if that’s what’s required,” Katz added.
Katz said as of right now, the company feels like Labor Day will be good time to ask last year’s pass holders to make a decision.
“Ultimately, this is about guest loyalty, and making sure that we do what we can to protect it,” Katz said.
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VAIL — The lift operator in the maze at Vail Village’s Gondola One tilts his head back and hollers: “Masks up please!”