Vail Daily column: Safety issues arise
Editor’s note: The following is Part 2 of a four-part series excerpted from a Vail Homeowners Association Visioning Vail Report. The association keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the Vail community. The electronic version of the entire report with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com.
Ski safety problems: Another measure of the marketing success, including the success of the Epic Pass, is the number of skiers that flock to Vail Mountain each day. Vail Resorts declines to release specific numbers, but most believe that the number of near capacity or over-capacity days so far this year seems to also be on pace for a record year. Many believe mountain capacity is 19,900, based on a town agreement that if capacity exceeded that number a technical review would be required. Be that as it may, speculation circulated that on Jan. 17, the number exceeded 26,000.
On-mountain congestion: Packing more people on to Vail Mountain isn’t all for the good; there are also negative consequences. The anecdotal stories of hits and near misses on the mountain continue to increase. The Association has tried to obtain the actual data, but Vail Resorts will not make its data public. That has not stopped a growing number from questioning whether Vail Resorts is taking enough appropriate steps to ensure safety on the mountain. For example, while Vail Resorts has increasingly embraced on-mountain technology, it does not video high-danger areas for violations. That is certainly technologically possible, given the use of video in toll road enforcement and other surveillance situations. There is also concern why Vail Resorts has not gone to a zero-tolerance policy for reckless and out-of-control skiers and riders; ski or ride that way and your pass is pulled; collide with another guest and your pass is pulled; second violation and lose your pass for a year; three strikes and you’re out; and leaving the scene of a collision results in being banned from the mountain. For problem skiers and riders who feel there is no obligation to be courteous to others, warnings could be entered into an active database available on-demand to all safety personnel on the mountain so that second warnings could result in a pass being pulled. Until Vail Resorts takes steps to seriously enforce mountain safety, guests are going to be unnecessarily at risk which will inevitably have adverse consequences.
Affordable housing shortage gets worse, making it difficult to find workers: A survey by business advocates reports 56 percent of local employers say there is a housing shortage that negatively affects their ability to attract, hire and retain a workforce. Advocates verify that the problem has been escalating since 2009. Eagle County officials report that 99 percent of rental residential properties are occupied. There is a two- to four-year waiting list for county-owned housing for low-income families and seniors. The national media is taking note of the severity of the local housing shortage, which may contribute to cooling the migration of workers into the area.
Current affordable housing shortage is not construction-driven: Throughout the past 50 years, successive construction booms have been the underlying cause of periodic affordable housing shortages. Today, with few large projects under construction, the current housing shortage cannot be attributed to the construction industry.
The dominant economic driver that is the source of Vail’s and Eagle County’s current shortage of workforce affordable housing has switched from construction to tourism. Tourism mass marketing strategies have been highly successful in the sale of lift tickets, filling restaurants, bars and tourism beds, but less so in the success of retail establishments.
Tourism is the cause of the affordable housing shortage: Social media has brought the advent of the shared economy via easily accessed rent-by-owner websites. Rental housing has shifted toward short-term use and away from long-term occupancy by workers. Rental owners’ incomes are higher with fewer days of dependency on rental income. Consumers are seeking a lower cost accommodation than those offered by upscale Vail hotels and lodges which have come to dominate the Vail market in recent years. The degree of displacement by tourism consumers of service workers has not been conclusively documented.
Analysis of the rent-by-owner websites by the town of Vail and Eagle County are inconclusive because some properties may be listed on multiple rent-by-owner websites. Town of Vail consultants believe there has been a steady increase in rent-by-owner properties since 2009, which is near the time when promotional marketing programs aimed at the millennial generation went into effect and are still continuing.
Millennials have been the primary target of mass marketing social media promotions. The increase in lower cost rent-by-owner tourism beds has been a boon for millennials who are attracted to the less expensive services that the shared economy can offer, because, more so than for preceding generations, they are fighting stronger “conomic headwinds.
Rental-by-owner has likely more than doubled the number of rent-by-owner tourists to nearly 6,000 since 2009. Local officials appear to have concluded that the shortage of worker housing is a result of the rent-by-owner phenomenon. This may be an incomplete perception.
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