Vail surviving on its reputation |

Vail surviving on its reputation

VAIL, Colo. – What Vail lacks in snow so far this season it makes up for with its reputation, according to one ski industry analyst.

All of Vail Mountain was open by this time last year. Though snow continued to fall Wednesday, 44 percent of the mountain was open as of Wednesday afternoon. Combine that with the new trend of guests waiting until the last minute to book their ski vacations, and the lack of snow could potentially affect bookings.

The good news is that most mega-resorts like Vail haven’t had much early-season snow either, with the exception of Whistler, British Columbia, said Ralf Garrison, a consultant with Advisory Group Inc., a travel marketing research company.

Garrison said the perception of snow is typically what destination guests use for reference when they book vacations, and Vail and Beaver Creek still carry that perception.

Destination guests – guests who travel farther distances for their ski vacations – rely on reputations of snow, typically, Garrison said. They are the same guests who typically book vacations more in advance, he said.

They are guests who were either here last season – when snow was deep – or have heard about the record snow from last season and the season before. If they’re concerned about snow at all, the previous seasons’ reputations live on and can help Vail in dryer times, Garrison said.

“Most reservations are made prior to Thanksgiving and snow really isn’t a factor at all,” Garrison said.

Chris Romer, the marketing director for the Vail Valley Partnership, said his best guess is that most large resorts in Colorado are in the same boat as Vail and Beaver Creek in terms of snowfall, so the lack of snow isn’t really hurting the local resorts.

Some smaller resorts, like Wolf Creek, have gotten a lot of snow, but it’s hard to compare small resorts to the mega-resorts because they attract different kinds of guests, Garrison said.

The valley’s hotel occupancies over the last week were strong, although official numbers won’t be available until January, Romer said.

The town of Vail’s economic department put together a chart of hotel bookings through Jan. 15, 2010, compared to the same time period last year. It shows a higher occupancy rate in town nearly every day from Nov. 30, 2009 through Jan. 15, 2010, in terms of advanced bookings, compared to last year. Last minute bookings ended up increasing rates almost daily last year, so the numbers could still improve.

Snow could potentially affect last-minute bookings because people who live closer by, such as Front Rangers, might track snow more closely when deciding where to ski. If Summit County gets a big storm one weekend and Vail and Beaver Creek do not, Front Rangers would be more likely to go there instead, Garrison said.

Instead of worrying about how early snow is currently affecting local resorts, “we might actually care more about how the Christmas season impacts March,” Garrison said.

When destination skiers and snowboarders go back to where they came from, they talk about their trips, Garrison said. If the word on the streets back in New York or Chicago is that the experience wasn’t so great around Christmas, people are less likely to book for the next high season in March, Garrison said.

“Its the experience the Christmas guest has that they send through the market that creates the buzz for bookings in February and March,” Garrison said. “March is going to need some buzz.”

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