Vail’s December revenues near record
February 16, 2012
VAIL, Colorado – The town of Vail had near-record revenues during the month of December, and snow had a lot to do with it.
Snow was scarce this past December, but it was the snow from December 2010 that brought in the destination business since destination guests book well in advance of their vacations, said Ralf Garrison, director of the Mountain Travel Research Program, which studies resort industry economics.
And the lack of snow this past December kept those visitors shopping and dining more than usual, said town of Vail Director of Budgets and Financial Reporting Kathleen Halloran.
“I think maybe that helped us this year,” Halloran said. “I think we kind of got lucky that way – normally when there’s no snow, we usually see less revenue.”
Garrison thinks people were in town not only because they booked too far in advance to know anything about snow conditions, but also because the momentum from last season, a record snow year, was strong heading into December.
“We’re living on last year’s snow equity,” he said. “Negative snow equity this year is potentially challenging, though, regardless of what the real (snow) product is next year.”
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Garrison echoed Halloran’s point that a less exciting snow product in December meant people didn’t ski as much, leaving them with more time and money to spend in town.
Families who visit Vail in December aren’t as snow dependent, either, Garrison said. He said the resort towns that did the best in December were ones that had plenty to offer besides skiing, a category Garrison said that Vail certainly falls under.
Town of Vail Economic Development Director Kelli McDonald said events in town, such as Holidaze and Snow Daze, in December, were compelling reasons for people to visit. She said that was especially true because of the lackluster snow.
The events were expanded and they were more visible, McDonald said, bringing a ton of life to town throughout the holiday season.
There were also a lot of international visitors from Mexico, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom – visitors who travel farther, thus stay longer and spend more.
McDonald said Epic Passes continue to help bring people to town, and Vail Mountain’s early season marketing may have helped boost December business, too.
Rob LeVine, general manager at The Antlers at Vail, said December revenue was up 10 percent over 2010. He attributes a majority of the spike to the average daily rate, which was up, while occupancy was flat.
LeVine looks at this season’s snowfall, however, and knows what it could mean for next year.
“I am a little worried about next year,” LeVine said via email. “Wondering how much the early bookings (international and otherwise) will take a hit because of the snow conditions this year. There’s definitely some residual effect of snow conditions that way, one year to the next. We might have to be more aggressive than ever with our early booking discounts just to combat that.”
And while LeVine also saw the international business increase that was felt town-wide, he said it makes up less than 20 percent of the Antlers’ business. A 16 percent or 18 percent increase in international business, which is where LeVine suspects it is, only really equates to about a 3 percent increase in the big picture at the Antlers, he said.
Rayla Kundolf, director at the Masters Gallery in Vail Village, said her business was up 17 percent this last December compared to the previous December. And December 2010 was up 30 percent to 40 percent over December 2009, she said.
She said the month started slow, but the last week – from Christmas to New Year’s Day – was spectacular.
At La Bottega, an Italian restaurant in Vail Village, December business was up 15 percent over last year, owner Stephen Virion said.
Garrison said there was an important shift in the wild cards that resort economies face – consumer confidence and weather.
“In Vail’s case, the last couple of years have had the economic wild card be really challenging, but the weather wild card be really solid and stable,” Garrison said. “This year, those wild cards flip-flopped – the underlying U.S. economy is getting better, however snow became inconsistent.”
The flip-flop helped in December, but what made December successful does not seem to play out so much in January, he said.
January has the influence of more of a local and regional guests, who wait for the weather they’ve become more accustomed to, he said.
“We’re not getting that game-changing weather,” Garrison said. “The thing Vail got out of January is booking activity for arrivals in February and March – people are making bets for February or March. They’ll pick a place that historically has snow.”
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.