Vail Resorts: ‘Standing still is not an option”
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – The head of Vail Resorts said Thursday the company has had to get more agile over the last year, and has learned some important lessons.Company CEO Rob Katz was the keynote speaker Thursday at the Vail Valley Partnership’s annual Vail Valley Business Forum at the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon. Katz used his time to talk about some of the company’s successes and problems over the past year or so, and how it’s setting the stage for future growth as the national economy recovers.Katz said he and the company have been called both brilliant and lucky for unveiling the Epic Pass last spring. Whatever it was, Katz said the Epic Pass really represented an attempt to do something different.”We knew (the pass) could create incredible guest loyalty,” Katz said. That seems to be proving out in Epic Pass sales for next season, which are well ahead of the pace set last year. But planning for next year hasn’t stopped with the Epic Pass, Katz said.One of the mistakes the company made last season was assuming people lured to Vail and other resorts with discounted skiing and lodging would spend money as they did in years past once they arrived. That didn’t happen.In fact, Katz said, both the company’s ski schools and its on-mountain restaurants took revenue hits last season. Ski school numbers alone were down 20 percent from the season before, Katz said.With that in mind, the company is now working on plans – which aren’t yet final – to aggressively market both its ski school and mountain restaurant operations. Beyond deals, though, Katz said the company believes its customers also value customer service. In a company that uses a lot of employees, that makes cutting costs tough. So, instead of cutting people, the company cut salaries and has looked at things like energy savings and going paperless in its offices over the next two years to save money.”It’s unconscionable to waste things like paper and energy when people are taking salary cuts,” Katz said. And, Katz said, just about every idea for saving money while maintaining customer service levels is up for discussion. So are ways to expand the business. During a question-and-answer period after his speech, Katz said Vail Resorts doesn’t get a lot of its revenue from its on-mountain summer activities, but that those activities are generally quite popular. Finding ways to expand those activities, without turning ski slopes into amusement parks, is part of the company’s planning these days. “The last year taught us that standing still is not an option,” Katz said. “Absolutely everything has to be thrown on the table.”Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.