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Vail Valley: Mountain Travel Symposium signals start of new season

Ralf Garrison
Vail, CO, Colorado

With this ski season in its home stretch at Vail and other resorts, many of us are winding down and looking toward a hard-earned mud season break. Yet for the resort marketing and sales types, there is no rest. Even as one season ends, planning for the next one begins, and the 2010/2011 season will formally kick off April 11 at the Mountain Travel Symposium in Banff, Alberta.

The annual Mountain Travel Symposium week has grown over 35 years to become the business-to-business trade show for the North American mountain travel industry. From its humble beginning in 1975 as an end-of-season kegger, the party became a “meeting” when its hosts found out they could expense the beer by doing so. It became the Symposium when someone referenced the Greek “symposion,” meaning “to drink together.” The dictionairy definition of symposium – “a social gathering at which there is a free interchange of ideas” – sounds considerably more legitimate, and befitting of an event that now spans seven days and attracts several of the key players in the North American and international mountain travel industry.

The central event of Symposium Week is the educational forum, two days of educationally-driven general sessions and workshops intended to provide a strategic foundation for the destination marketers tasked with the challenge of planning for an uncertain future.



Fusing an impressive array of economic data, market research and leaders from throughout the travel industry, this year’s Forum will tackle “New Realities” in destination mountain travel. Packed into two intense days, the Forum is designed to both look back at the lessons learned during the season and then forward to identify the key components of market conditions, economy and consumer sentiment that will segregate the winners from the losers in the winter to come.

Throughout various general sessions and specific workshops, presenters will provide both a comprehensive overview of the significant changes in the destination travel industry as well as specific recommendations for coping with these “New Realities,” informing and empowering attendees as they attempt to formulate their strategies for success in the coming season.



Two business-to-business trade shows have grown around the Forum, both of which are based on meetings between buyers and suppliers of vacation components such as lodging, lift tickets, transportation and the like. Organized around a highly structured set of prescheduled appointments between the buyers and suppliers in 9-12 minute increments, this format has often been compared to professional “speed dating.” Participants in the Trade Exchange could experience up to 62 appointments over three days in 12-minute increments, split only by two-minute breaks.

Buyers are represented by tour operators, travel agents and ski clubs from around North America and the world. About 350 strong this year, buyers come to purchase their 2010/2011 lodging, lift tickets and transportation, then spend the summer building and planning the promotional campaigns that will go on sale to consumers during the fall launch around Labor Day.

Participating suppliers include the ski companies, lodging properties and transportation providers, as well as the destination marketing organizations representing their interests. More than 400 suppliers from resorts throughout the United States and Canada will be at the show, attempting to make contacts with buyers and thereby preselling a significant amount of their 2010/2011 inventory.



With participants reporting between a quarter and third of their total business resulting from Symposium contacts, the stakes are huge and by week’s end, a great deal will have been learned about how the forthcoming year is unfolding. Our team will be there with our ears to the ground about the early indicators of seasonal momentum and the trends that will eventually determine the winners and losers.

So while most folks who live and work in the mountains are planning their well-earned mud season trips to Maui or Mexico, let’s give a shout out to those brave but beleaguered souls who are hard at work and already heavily engaged in the 2010/2011 season, setting the stage for what we all hope will be a prosperous new reality for all.

Ralf Garrison is the founder and director of the Advisory Group, which provides marketing services to destination resorts around the country, owning and operating the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP) and the Mountain Travel Symposium. Contact Ralf at rgarrison@adv-grp.com.


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