Vail Valley tourism spending is growing — but for how long?
Tourism spending in Eagle County grew by $100 million from 2012 to 2018
- $963.5 million: Eagle County tourism spending in 2018.
- $863.6 million: Eagle County tourism spending in 2012.
- $22.3 billion: Colorado tourism spending in 2018.
- $16.5 billion: Colorado tourism spending in 2012.
- Source: “Colorado Travel Impacts,” Dean Runyon Associates.
Tourism spending in Eagle County is approaching $1 billion per year. Can it continue?
A recent report from the Colorado Tourism offices indicates that 2018 tourism spending in Eagle County was $968.5 million. That’s up roughly $100 million from 2012.
That rise is in line with tourism spending statewide.
Tourism spending in Colorado topped $22.3 billion in 2018, up from $16.5 billion in 2012. Roughly half of that spending was in the Denver metropolitan area.
The amount of spending is good news for the local and state economies. But in mountain resorts, the rise in visitation raises questions of how to deal with more visitors in relatively small areas. That means a number of resorts are dealing with not just tourism promotion, but managing that increasing number of guests.
“That’s a discussion we need to have as a community,” said Chris Romer, president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership. “How do we manage the guest experience, from customer service to education to sustainability?”
Romer said Vail Resorts has done a good job of educating guests with its Skicology program and elements of the summer Epic Discovery programs.
On public lands, education and management include trail closures to accommodate wildlife migration and calving.
This new part of tourism management needs to focus not just on economic benefits, but how destinations work to drive visitation during all 12 months of the year.
It isn’t just Vail
Those conversations aren’t just happening in the Vail Valley.
Tom Foley is the senior vice president of business operations and analytics at Inntopia, a resort market research firm. That company’s DestiMetrics division tracks and analyzes lodging occupancy and other economic indicators.
Foley said that at this point, “destination management” is something that’s become something of a buzzword.
While there’s lots of talk about trying to manage visitation and the guest experience, Foley said the concept isn’t particularly well-defined at the moment.
But destination management, at least in mountain resorts, is largely a response to the growth of summer visitation.
“Winter visitation has climbed at a smaller rate (than summer),” Foley said, adding that winter lodging rates and other costs have risen as demand has stayed strong.
The increase in visitation at mountain resorts has come primarily through summer business. That demand has driven even larger gains in rate during that season.
Foley noted that a decade ago, the average summer rate in Vail was 51% of the average winter rate. More recently, the average summer rate is 65% of the winter average.
A number of factors have driven the increase in summer business, from events in towns to opening up more on-mountain activities with programs including Vail Resorts’ Epic Discovery.
But the growth in business has resulted in “pushback” from communities, Foley said. Residents start bemoaning the lack of quiet times in increasingly busy communities.
With that increase, “It’s our job to properly manage the guest experience, while being good stewards of the community,” Romer said. That means thanking guests and including a good bit of education about why a particular mountain getaway is so special.
Alison Wadey, the director of the Vail Chamber & Business Association, said destination management also includes attention to different demographic groups.
Managing the experience
“We want them to choose us over somewhere else,” Wadey said. “It’s the entire experience, (examining) touchpoints we didn’t acknowledge in the past.”
Wadey said the advent of social media means both guests and locals are posting critiques of everything from “trailheads to transportation to trash cans.” That’s why it’s important to think about virtually every element of what makes a resort special.
Wadey said Vail’s various community groups “are asking the right questions” when it comes to management.
While a lot of resorts are looking at how to manage the influx of guests, Foley said he doesn’t believe the growth in business can last indefinitely.
The growth of both summer and winter business coincides with the longest economic expansion in U.S. history, Foley said. Then there’s the fact of limited access to resorts.
“The mountains have always been a lifestyle endeavor,” Foley said, adding that the enjoyment of those places by guests and residents is “detracted by high volumes of people.”
At some point, the growth in tourism spending is likely to slow, Foley said.
“(Interstate) 70 isn’t getting any wider,” he said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2930.
A local attorney said he sees similarities between last week’s chairlift death of a New Jersey man, and a case he won against Vail Resorts 20 years ago.