Sales slide in Vail |

Sales slide in Vail

Melanie Wong
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colo. ” The lifts at Vail may be busy as ever, but the skiers aren’t necessarily spending money in town, according to town reports.

Lift tax, or money collected by the town based on skier traffic, has been up most months this season. The first dip came in January, when the tax revenue was down more than 7 percent compared to last year.

However, sales tax revenues ” an indicator of how much people are spending in Vail’s restaurants, lodges and shops ” has been sliding downward the entire season.

Sales tax collections for this season have been dropping an average of 8.7 percent compared to last season, according to the town.

February experienced the biggest drop, with sales taxes totaling about $2.6 million, a decrease of more than 12 percent from January.

That pattern is one Matt Morgan, owner of Sweet Basil in Vail Village, is seeing in his restaurant.

On days when lift lines are long, or when cars line the Frontage Road, the restaurant isn’t necessarily busy, he said.

Much of the skier traffic is probably from Epic Pass holders, especially those from the Front Range ” and they don’t necessarily come to the restaurants, Morgan said.

“It beats a half-empty parking lot, but we frankly don’t see too much (business) from that,” he said. “It’s largely destination people, and we also see a good number of second-home owners.”

But the restaurant is still busy, with revenue numbers off only about 5 percent to 10 percent, Morgan said.

“The number of guests are solid, but people are being a little more conservative with what they’re spending,” he said.

Antlers Condominiums General Manager Rob LeVine agreed that the Front Range skiers might walking straight to the slopes without spending much in town.

“(When the Epic Pass was first announced) some were afraid that it would bring people up here who wouldn’t contribute to the business in town,” LeVine said. “But if not for those people, we’d be down even more than we are.”

February was a tough month for hotels. Vail Valley Partnership reports indicate the final numbers for February occupancy in Vail lodges might be as much as 12.6 percent off from last year.

Forecasts for March, historically the busiest month for hotels, are down even more, with advance bookings down almost 27 percent.

LeVine said those numbers are similar to what the Antlers has been seeing. Revenue for the condos were about 15 percent lower than last February, he said.

“March looks like an even bigger challenge,” he said. “I expect we’ll be down more than 15 percent ” maybe even 25 percent.”

Connie Dorsey, general manager at the Vail Plaza Hotel, said that bookings for March still “have a little way to go.”

The Vail Village hotel has been doing better this season than last year, which was its first season. Weekend business has been boosted by group trips, which are usually booked months in advance, Dorsey said.

The hotel has also been attracting other travelers with promotions such as free parking or discounts to the spa along with a room booking.

Much of Vail’s sales tax revenue has been driven by Lionshead Village, thanks to new hotels and shops in the Arrabelle at Vail Square.

Still, even Lionshead merchants are reporting “steady” business at best.

Arriesgado, a clothing store that opened last season, is seeing business consistent with last winter, said owner Cabal Yarni.

Yarni said he’s focused on bringing in fresh, new products and advertising the store. Weekends have been pretty busy, bringing a good number of international customers, he said.

“We try to look at (this season) with a positive attitude,” Yarni said. “We weren’t sure what to expect, but it’s turned out pretty well. With a new store, you’re always kind of struggling for the first two years.”

Matt Carroll, general manager of the Double Diamond Ski Shop, said the shop’s business has been “steady,” but added that the store has had to make its prices more competitive this season.

“We’re seeing a lot of our competitors giving deeper discounts this year,” Carroll said. “The biggest thing is trying to compete pricewise with some of the bigger chain stores.”

He hopes that some new snow forecasted later this week will bring more visitors.

“March is traditionally a pretty big snow month. Hopefully this is a blip,” he said of the sunny skies and spring-like weather. “I think winter will be back.”

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