Vail Town Council discusses potential solutions for diversifying winter tourism economy | VailDaily.com

Vail Town Council discusses potential solutions for diversifying winter tourism economy

The Vail Winterfest Ice Theater, part of the town's annual holiday celebration, is a popular off-slope activity. Given the current snow drought, town officials are starting to look into other ways to provide off-slope winter activities.

VAIL — Over the past decade or so, the town of Vail has put most of its marketing eggs into summer's basket. That may have to change.

The midday temperature in Vail was in the mid-40s on Tuesday, Jan. 9. Snow was melting off rooftops. With that as backdrop, the Vail Town Council gathered in The Grand View room atop the Lionshead Village parking structure for a morning-long conversation about the town's direction over the next couple of years. As part of that discussion about the town's near-term future, the current drought drew some attention.

Council member Jenn Bruno said it's time for the town to look at diversifying its winter economy.

Bruno, co-owner of the Luca Bruno clothing stores in town, said after spending the past few weeks in the two shops, it's clear that visitors need more to do in the winter months. There's only so much dining and shopping you can do when the ski slopes are short of snow, she said.

"We saw people cutting their trips short — they ran out of stuff to do," Bruno said. "We've spent so much time on summer (marketing) — we need to change the way we think."

Brainstorming

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Tuesday's retreat was a chance to talk about ideas in an informal setting. The meeting was open to the public, but there were no TV cameras. Council members were free to brainstorm some ideas.

Travis Coggin, the newest council member, suggested looking into ways to put events into the covered portion of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater during the winter months.

Council member Greg Moffet said the town needs something in the winter that can drive visitation the way the Burton U.S. Open Snowboard Championships has. That event, set for early March, has driven the town's lodging occupancy percentages from the 70s to the 90s.

It's unclear what that event might bring a similar wave of visitors, but town officials are acknowledging that the current ski season is starting to look uncomfortably like March of 2017.

It barely snowed that month, and town sales tax collections fell 14 percent from the previous year.

Getting a leg up

Most Colorado resorts are in similar straights.

Moffet said Vail is in good enough financial health that it can afford to launch an initiative or two to lure people from other resorts.

"If this is an opportunity for us to address our competitive situation, we should," Moffet said.

If a winter marketing campaign emerges from Tuesday's brainstorming session, then it would be at least conceptually similar to Vail All the Love, a marketing campaign launched in the fall of 2008, just as the nation's economy had fallen into a deep slump.

That program, funded with $500,000 from the town and marketing help from Vail Resorts, featured discounts and freebies from several local businesses.

The program continued into the summer of 2009 and through the 2009-10 ski season.

The first season of the program was an unqualified success, bringing an estimated 7,000 new room nights to Vail. At the time, program managers estimated $3.5 million in new spending during the ski season, along with $3.1 million in new spending in the summer of 2009.

Vail All the Love kick-started several years of record revenue growth during the summer months.

Much of that growth came at the expense of competing resorts.

Moffet said it's time to look opportunistically at the current snow drought.

"It's a bummer of a year, but there's an opportunity because we have a rainy-day fund," he said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.

By the numbers

$27.6 million: Estimated town of Vail general fund reserves at the end of 2017.

$897,000: Town of Vail funding for “signature” events in 2018.

$310,000: Town funding for 2018 Colorado Classic cycling events.

38 percent: Percentage of average snowpack on Vail Mountain on Monday, Jan. 8

Sources: Town of Vail, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District