Vail: The new wellness mecca?
Aspen, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colo. – More and more Vail visitors want to learn new things and challenge themselves, whether it’s mountain biking, hiking or trail running, said Ellen Miller, a local athlete and trainer.
“Vail is the perfect place to go do that stuff,” Miller said.
To tap into that trend, Miller is working with the town of Vail to create a three-day trail-running camp this summer.
The town’s economic leaders are seeing the same trend – and noticing that adventure-seekers are willing to spend money to pursue their passions. Town leaders have a plan to turn Vail into a mecca for wellness, fitness and outdoor sports, and are hoping the plan will produce more year-round business and jobs.
“We want to facilitate visitors’ ability to pursue their passions at a mountain resort,” said Beth Slifer, a local business owner who is a member of the Vail Local Marketing District Advisory Committee.
Marketing officials have worked with a New York-based consultant over the last several years to come up with and implement the idea.The consultant, James Chung, of Reach Advisors, said people are spending more of their discretionary income on fitness and wellness, which are becoming the “new marker of wealth.”
The consultant says fitness-oriented spending among consumers was especially strong in 2009.
“This is all about economics,” Chung said. “What we’re looking to do is give more people the excuse to recognize Vail as the home for the passions they want to pursue. We want to give them reasons to come to Vail. More reasons to do longer stays in Vail.”
When those people are here, they are theoretically staying in hotels, eating in restaurants and buying things in shops.
A vast majority of Vail’s business – some 75 to 80 percent – comes in the wintertime. This is an effort to balance the scales toward summer, Chung said.
The service-oriented workforce is already in place in the valley, Slifer said.
“We really do deliver world-class service, even when the snow was way down (this year),” Slifer said. “Visitors gave Vail high marks for service. It just pointed out that our population knows how to deliver first-class service. But it’s practically dormant eight months a year. The service sector of our community, those people are there. They are waiting for better incomes and year-round jobs.”
Chung calls this decade the “decade of total wellness.”
In the wake of 1972’s Title IX, which increased women’s participation in sports in high school and college, today’s adults in their 30s and 40s had greater access to sports growing up and there’s been a shift away from gender-segregated sports, Chung said.
Steps are already under way to implement the plan. Marketing officials are recruiting camps, workshops and clinics to come to town.
Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong’s cycling coach, is coming to Vail in June to host a five-day high-altitude training camp. Miller’s three-day running camp will be in July, and her coaches are renowned local athletes, including triathletes Lisa Isom and Josiah Middaugh.
Chung said companies and groups are even thinking about establishing offices and relocating jobs to Vail as part of the effort.
Vail hopes to get out ahead of copycats so it can swipe market share before others recognize the trend, Chung said.
“A lot of resorts claim that they do this kind of stuff, but no one has done it in a focused manner,” Chung said.
Leaders hope to also incorporate “medical tourism,” in which patients come to Vail for certain specialties such as orthopedics, into the plan. Bringing medical conferences here is another option.
The Vail Valley Medical Center is receptive to working with the town on the ideas, said Dr. Jack Eck, a board member with the Vail Valley Medical Center.
“There is a role for the medical center in this wellness initiative in the community,” Eck said.
The town and the Vail medical center have been working together with large medical centers to see if they can form a partnership to bring educational forums to the valley, Eck said.
Slifer and Chung believe the fitness-wellness-outdoor sports business can form a “third leg” of the economy besides skiing and real estate.
“It’s a growth sector,” Slifer said.
Don Cohen, executive director of the Economic County of Eagle County, a group that promotes long-term economic health in the county, said the strategy seems like a good way to grow jobs, especially since construction jobs – which had been plentiful here in recent years – have dried up and show little sign of returning soon.
The faltering economy has sped the progress of the idea of diversifying the economy, Cohen said.
“What several years ago might been, ‘Gee, that would be nice to have,’ now, the tone of that conversation has really started to change to, ‘This would be important to have,'” he said.
Cohen believes that new facilities – medical or otherwise, in Vail, Edwards or elsewhere – will be important in pursuing the fitness-wellness business.
That is something that Slifer and the advisory council have already proposed for Vail. She has presented a $24.6 million plan for new facilities at Dobson Arena and the Vail Golf Course for meetings, events, classes, conferences and weddings.
Vail Mayor Dick Cleveland said he’s receptive to the concept of making Vail a fitness and wellness mecca – even if he worries that the $24.6 million plan may be too ambitious.
“I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “It’s a niche we are naturally positioned for. We ought to take advantage of it.”
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