Vail Resorts braces for battle
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. ” Cutthroat competition has ski resorts like Vail and Beaver Creek, cruise lines and world-famous amusement parks rolling out flashy packages to tourists calloused by a tumultuous economy.
“We’re rapidly going from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in a very short time period,” Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz told a standing-room-only crowd at Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge on Monday for a discussion of the winter’s financial forecast ” and how to brace against it.
Vail Resorts is in good financial shape following an “incredible growth streak” from 2003 to present, Katz said.
But the economic downturn ” which has reached around the globe ” is sure to affect ski tourism.
“We don’t really see a good market right now,” said Katz, whose company also owns Breckenridge and Keystone resorts in Summit County, Colo. “I think they are all equally awful.”
There’s “a huge amount of competition” this year, with occupancy rates expected to be the worst since 1988, said Beaver Run Resort sales and marketing director Bruce Horii.
And the competitors will want to capture and keep the market share.
“Once you lose your momentum in an industry like ours, to get it back is very difficult,” he said.
Steamboat Ski Resort this month announced a deal offering free lift tickets with lodging packages.
Park City Mountain Resort in Utah offers out-of-state visitors free lift tickets for the day they arrive.
Horii said beach resorts, especially the ones in Hawaii, are expecting worse numbers than ski resorts this year. Cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean and even Disney Parks and Resorts are offering alluring packages and lower rates.
Horii later pointed out that if tourists find a good deal this year, they may be expecting it the next.
He said local businesses may want to emphasize marketing, and rebranding their packages.
“We shouldn’t be so foolhardy that we leave money on the table,” Horii said.
Katz said Vail Resorts doesn’t have plans to reduce lift-ticket prices but is spending more on marketing efforts than last year. He said the company aims to be consistent and that customers who get the “full experience” will be more loyal.
“(For) anybody who comes this year, the bar is even higher,” he said.
Horii said Beaver Run is also working to attract more business conventions and meetings.
“We’re going to have to turn over every rock to see what we can find,” he said.
Breckenridge Resort Chamber executive director John McMahon said that though December bookings through the chamber are down about 12 percent, they are expected to go up in the next few weeks.
He said local businesses this winter will want to focus on partnering with one another and emphasizing customer service.
“As a destination, we’re probably more unified than ever,” he said.
The Breckenridge Town Council recently contributed an extra $250,000 ” from reserves ” to the chamber for marketing.
“We are putting those dollars where we know fish are biting,” McMahon said.
Breckenridge Mayor John Warner said the Breckenridge 150 ” the town’s sesquicentennial celebration ” should help draw tourists interested in history.
“We’re getting ready for a celebration and ready to knock the socks off those heritage tourists,” he said.
He said the town expects a 4.3-percent sales-tax decrease in 2009.
Presently, the town’s year-to-date sales-tax collections are up 2 percent from last year. Collections for September are down 1.2 percent.
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Cam Daniel is a former youth addiction counselor who’s been a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy for three years.