Vail Valley: Will international business speed recovery?
July 26, 2012
AVON – International tourism is still a relatively small part of the state’s economy, but that number is poised to grow over the next few years in the Vail Valley and across Colorado.At a Thursday panel discussion – part of the Vail Valley Partnership’s annual Vail Valley Business Forum – participants touched on the importance of international visitors, and how new flights into Denver International Airport could bring still more people to the region.United Airlines announced in May it would begin nonstop service next year between Denver and Tokyo, a move many in Denver see as good for business. Icelandair will this year begin nonstop service between Denver and Reykjavik, Iceland, opening up service to several cities in Europe.”I really do believe (international travel) saved our bacon last year – that’s why we like being aligned with you in Vail,” said Richard Scharf, president and CEO of Visit Denver, that city’s convention and visitor’s bureau.Scharf said much of the group business his organization is trying to attract comes from outside the United States.”The growth there is international, and that’s why I think you’ll see more flights,” Scharf said.Referring to the Tokyo and Reykjavik flights, panel member Maria Garcia Berry, Chief Executive Officer of CRL Associates, a consulting company specializing in transportation, said Denver’s airport is a “hub to the intermountain west.””We can’t afford to have the flight to Tokyo fail,” she said.Visit Denver has already linked with Vail Resorts and Colorado Ski Country USA to offer extended-visit packages to groups coming to Denver, Scharf said, adding more alliances like that need to be built.”We need as a state to determine how we build our brand,” he said.Beyond tourism, building on Colorado’s brand will be important to convince more businesses to relocate to Colorado.Richard Wobbekind, Executive Director of the Business Research Division and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Programs at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said while tourism is an important part of the state’s economy, it doesn’t create high-paying jobs. Those higher-pay jobs are essential to build the economies of relatively expensive places such as the Vail Valley. Industries such as health and wellness do create those jobs.But those high-paying jobs often start with a tourist’s visit.Scharf said 80 percent of all businesses that relocate to Colorado came because someone associated with those companies came here on vacation.That’s why the state needs to continue its marketing efforts, Scharf said.But, Scharf said, it’s important for the state to try to attract businesses that might not be interested in other states. As an example, Scharf said his group is trying to lure the annual meeting of an outdoor retailers’ association to Colorado. “We need to chase companies that live our lifestyle,” he said. “Let’s focus on things we own.”But chasing relocating companies and international visitors will require the state’s different regions to talk to, and cooperate with, each other.Garcia Berry said 53 percent of the state’s population lives in just seven Front Range counties. People in those counties might need some help understanding how the rest of the state can improve the economy of their home towns.The wide-ranging program also touched upon topics from real estate to transportation – panel members favored improvement to Interstate 70 and exploring some sort of transit system. After the session, Evergreen Lodge General Manager Chris Hanen said he’d heard some encouraging news.”There are a lot of options out there,” Hanen said. “It’s great there’s so much happening.”