Vail Valley resorts drawing corporate business again
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – After a few years hiding in the darkness, corporate travel seems to be making a comeback in the Vail Valley. In the golden days, about the middle of the last decade, profitable companies often rewarded their people by sending them to conferences in nice places – here, for instance. Then came the financial meltdown of 2008.After the international financial crisis hit, corporate travel dropped by more than 15 percent the next year, thanks to something people in the travel business call the “AIG Effect.” Just days after receiving an $85 billion bailout, one of the company’s subsidiaries hosted an expensive conference at an expensive California resort. Corporate travel then turned into something of a political football when President Barack Obama told big companies to consider more modest places – like Omaha – for their corporate retreats instead of fancier spots such as Las Vegas. Or Beaver Creek.Corporate travel planners went undergound like prairie dogs that have spotted a hawk.Over the past couple of years, though, corporate travel has started to make a slow comeback.Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa General Manager Bob Trotter opened that hotel in Avon in September of 2008, just as the worldwide financial system took that well-publicized nosedive, so that property never saw the good times. But, he said, corporate business is coming back, and he’s got the numbers to prove it.The Westin tracks its group business a couple of ways: “social” groups such as weddings and corporate business. For the first few years the Westin was open, the social and corporate sectors each accounted for about half of the hotel’s group business.These days, corporate business makes up more than 60 percent of the Westin’s group business. That split comes from business growth, Trotter said. “Not only are the corporate meetings coming back, but so are the incentive trips, the corporate rewards,” Trotter said.The Vail Valley Partnership helps book group business into lodges up and down the valley, and executive director Chris Romer said his organization is seeing the same trends Trotter is.Year-over-year bookings for corporate travel are up 14 percent from last year, Romer said, adding that the Partnership’s sales people are working several leads to expand that business further.Romer said the Vail Valley’s brand awareness, combined with the marketing power of national hotel groups, has helped get the attention of people who book trips at trade shows and other events. Like leisure travel, Romer said there may be some pent-up demand for corporate trips to nice places. Add in the fact that Vail Valley hotels can often beat Denver hotels on rates between May and October, and a trip to the mountains can make good business sense, too.Beyond the big companies, business groups from Colorado like booking in the Vail Valley because of its location, Romer said.In May, the Denver office of the Dale Carnegie Training, will bring a three-day seminar to the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort. It’s the first time in five years the company has brought one of its courses to the area.Steve Larson of the Dale Carnegie Denver office said he hopes the seminar attracts a mix of people from both the mountain resort region and elsewhere.Larson said the company’s return to Vail might also reflect an increase in corporate training budgets, which shrunk along with travel when the 2008 recession hit with full force.”We’ve seen an uptick in training over the last 12 to 18 months,” Larson said. There’s also been more willingness for companies to venture outside cities when they do send people to train.”We want a good environment for people to learn,” Larson said. “If they’re tucked away on an island in the middle of a city, people won’t learn as well.”While corporate travel to the Vail Valley isn’t yet back to the levels it hit in the middle of the last decade, Trotter – whose last job was in the Denver area – said there’s even more reason for optimism.”The corporate market is already all the way back down there,” he said.
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