Vail ramps up marketing efforts |

Vail ramps up marketing efforts

Jack Affleck/Vail ResortsThe Epic Season Pass, introduced in 2008, and other products and packaged deals have helped Vail Resorts remain a strong competitor with other resorts in the tough economic environment, resort officials say.

VAIL, Colo. – If all goes as planned, Vail Resorts will see a higher percentage of “destination” skiers as opposed to day-trippers this season – a lofty goal considering the effects from the country’s ongoing recession.

Vail Resorts has responded to the country’s economic problems with products and packaged deals that make it a strong competitor with other North American ski resorts. It began with the introduction in 2008 of the Epic Pass, an unlimited, unrestricted season pass to its six resorts for less than $600.

That was just the beginning, though. Since then, Vail has introduced programs like its fly-in, ski free promotion, an on-mountain meal deal for less than 10 bucks and various lodging offers. Vail also changed its slogan from “Vail: There’s no comparison,” to “Vail: Like nothing on Earth.”

Adam Sutner, Vail’s marketing director, said the company has revamped its marketing plans to address new consumer behaviors, and it seemed to work last year, when Vail Resorts’ skier visits increased during the worst national economic slump since the Great Depression.

This year, Sutner said the company is focusing on European and Latin American markets, as well as North American markets, to boost business during tough times.

“We’re trying to get that destination business back, one city at a time,” Sutner said.

Chris Jarnot, Vail Mountain’s senior vice president and chief operating officer, said 2009 was a tough year and thankfully the company “was in great shape to take on a storm like this.”

Vail Resorts made a lot less money than it did in 2008, but Jarnot points out things like the strength of the Epic Pass and progress in guest satisfaction as factors in helping the company stay strong.

While the company made cuts, nothing came out of the guest experience, Jarnot said.

Jarnot is hoping for another 1.6 million skier visits to Vail Mountain this year, which means marketing efforts can’t lag if those numbers are going to be reached.

Vail Resorts is looking to leverage the euro’s exchange rate with the dollar – Europeans can essentially get half-price trips to Vail ski resorts because of the weaker dollar. Vail Resorts is “marketing big overseas,” Sutner said, including efforts via several “mini-websites” in multiple languages.

“We’ve made a huge, substantial commitment to the Web,” Sutner said.

Vail is taking advantage of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and the company’s digital advertising budget is up about 100 percent.

“We’re big innovators of understanding the (media) space and using it,” Sutner said.

The company is also working with the airline industry, making commitments to airlines for flight volumes and other partnerships, Sutner said.

The biggest thing in 2010 is to remain flexible, Sutner said. People are booking trips closer to their travel dates and delaying their decisions, so the company has to be more flexible to address that, he said.

“We have to have the right offer, at the right time, to the right audience,” Sutner said.

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