Vail Valley Voices: New look for old problems
Vail, CO Colorado
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the Vail Homeowners Association monthly report in May. We plan to publish weekly excerpts from the association, which keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside the town. The newsletter’s electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com.
Have Vail’s traditional growth problems – parking and affordable housing – become issues of the past? These issues have become so ingrained in the community’s political psyche that they will not be easily set aside. There are those who are of the opinion that their continued public debate, championed by local popular politicos, could be obscuring more important community issues. As some see it, before new economic realities can take hold in Vail, the town government must find itself in an untenable position by spending down its financial reserves in a vain attempt to keep popular local issues as the central theme of its agenda.
What is now playing out in the economic decline of Vermont’s ski communities could also be replicated in Eagle County, but on a much larger scale. There is a rebalancing process under way in the local economy. There is a political appetite for more development, but a disbelief that it will occur any time soon because of national economic conditions. The collapse of the construction industry as a year-round employer has reset the local economic priority to filling high-end destination guest beds, now the mainstay of the local economy.
The three-decades-long drum beat for a “year round” economy is being replaced with a quest to return to core strengths by maximizing revenues during prime summer and winter tourism seasons.
The “shoulder” season remains the providence of a slow revival in the “group” business market that can be attributed to several new midsize conference facilities built in new hotel properties. Faded from the scene, after 20 years of throwing millions of dollars at designing elaborate public/private development schemes, is the “year-round economy” concept of a publicly subsidized 1,100-plus seat convention/conference center.
There is an emerging reality that is being borne out by gains in Vail Resorts revenues as the shape and profitability of its post-recession marketing strategies play out. However, the longevity of marketing-driven gains can be ephemeral. Vail is fortunate – it has its 50th anniversary celebration and the 2015 World Alpine Championships to keep it focused on developing new markets and catering to its traditional base. In the view of some lifetime Vail loyalists, much will be dependent upon increasing new investment to improve on-mountain safety and facilities on a par with improvements being made throughout the town and by other international competitors. A bigger share of reinvestment dollars is necessary to keep the Vail flagship leading the way forward.
Today, sound marketing and investment strategies are delivering profitability in the winter season, but without further consolidation of both the summer and winter branding, can performance keep pace with the crest of the consumer-directed wave? The existing fragmented organization of the community’s government-controlled marketing program leads to a branding message that can be uncontrollable, garbled, and where weaknesses can quickly trump strengths. In the view of some business leaders, the community needs to embrace increased control from the private sector to lead to the unification of a year round brand-building strategy targeted at growing business by expanding into multicultural international markets. A local domestic government is ill-equipped to take on and sustain such a task.
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