Where will the Vail Valley’s group business come from? | VailDaily.com

Where will the Vail Valley’s group business come from?

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

If you’re looking for local fallout from the nation’s financial crisis in the Vail Valley, drive to 4Eagle Ranch north of Wolcott.

The ranch for years has earned much of its income hosting parties for various corporate groups. Those visits now have become far less frequent.

“We used to do between six and eight private parties a month in the winter,” 4Eagle owner Tom Backhus said. “Now we’re doing between one and three.”

The falloff started last year. Groups would come, but with significantly fewer people. Now, groups that have booked parties are cancelling their trips altogether.

“They’re saying they’ve had budget cuts, or cuts in travel, or they just don’t want to be viewed as extravagant,” Backhus said.

But the news isn’t entirely bad. Groups that aren’t associated with corporations are still booking rooms in the Vail Valley between April and November. In fact, the Vail Valley Partnership’s group sales statistics are up from 2008, which was a record.

“We’re up about 22 percent over last year,” said partnership sales and marketing director Chris Romer. And, he added, the partnership has seen an even bigger increase in requests for information.

So, what kind of groups are coming?

Romer said the partnership has been booking smaller groups from companies that aren’t likely to be in the limelight. The partnership also has a person dedicated to sports groups.

Those sports groups range from an “Iron Kids” youth triathlon in Avon over Labor Day to an “Irish hurling” event in August in Vail.

While the hurling event sounds like a pub crawl gone wrong, it’s actually an ancient Irish sport that Romer said is similar to lacrosse or field hockey. The Irish national team is coming to Vail, as are a lot of club teams from around the nation.

The participants alone will book nearly 2,000 room nights. Throw in families, friends and participants in an Irish heritage festival to be held at the same time, and the result is a pretty good chunk of summer business.

Then there are the smaller groups.

Rob LeVine, general manager of the Antlers Lodge in Vail, said his place is on pace to host more wedding parties than it did last summer. Those groups bring, on average, 40 to 50 people to the lodge.

LeVine said he likes the idea of “participatory” events like sports tournaments, said those events have yet to prove themselves as real money-makers.

Backhus said he’s hosted individual teams and similar groups in the area for a tournament. But, he added, those groups usually ask for, and usually receive, a discount off the full rate. The corporate customers usually pay the full rate.

But, Romer said, participatory events may be the closest thing the travel business has to a recession-proof customer pool right now.

“What we’re seeing is that people are willing to travel to pursue their passion,” Romer said. “We’re seeing that with softball, and with Irish hurling.

“People will also travel for their children’s passion,” Romer added. “People will travel for an Iron Kids event, or a junior judo tournament. That’s why we’re focusing on those things.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.

22 ” Percent jump in non-skiing group bookings through the Vail Valley Partnership.

2,000 ” Estimated room nights for participants in an “Irish hurling” tournament in August.

400 ” The low end of the participant estimate for a judo tournament coming in May of 2010.

$8 million ” Economic impact of group business booked last year by the Vail Valley Partnership.

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