Vail to focus on destination markets | AspenTimes.com

Vail to focus on destination markets

Lauren Glendenning
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Vail Daily fileMexico City residents Jorge and Maria Morfin walk through Vail Village last winter. A Vail Mountain marketing executive said this week that Vail Resorts will focus marketing efforts in large part on "destination" guests this winter. The company sees a lot of potential growth in markets in Canada, Mexico and Australia.

VAIL, Colo. – Vail Resorts is happy with the Front Range business it has at Vail Mountain, but the company is focusing this year’s marketing efforts on national and international destination business.

As the recession hit about two years ago, the company worked hard on marketing to the Front Range. The efforts worked, as Front Range business has increased over the years.

Now, it’s time to focus on increasing destination business – guests who travel from afar, stay in hotels and spend more money on their vacations, said Vail Mountain’s Marketing Director Adam Sutner at the Vail Economic Advisory Council meeting Tuesday.

There’s a lot to market this year, too, Sutner said.

“From where I sit, this is a good year,” Sutner said. “We’ve got a lot of new stuff to talk about.”

Stuff like Solaris and its movie theater and bowling alley, the Four Seasons and Vail Resorts’ new Ritz-Carlton Residences.

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Solaris will become Vail’s new focal point for town vitality, Sutner believes – and Vail Resorts will be right there to cash in on it by hosting many Vail Mountain events at the Solaris public plaza, for example.

The mountain is also a better product this year, Sutner said. Additions like the new Chair 5 and a new covered magic carpet at a renovated tubing hill are examples that prove the resort “isn’t sleeping in this tough economy.”

A big gain at Vail this year is the U.S. Ski Team, which will be practicing at Vail Golden Peak beginning in early November. Last year the team practiced at Copper Mountain.

“The shift of the U.S. Ski Team from Copper to Vail is a big deal,” Sutner said. “Word has gotten around that this is the place to train. This is clearly a manifestation of our growth and our brand.”

U.S. Ski Team racer Lindsey Vonn trained at Vail’s Golden Peak last year because Vail Resorts was one of her biggest sponsors leading into the 2010 Winter Olympics. This year, Vonn will be joined at Golden Peak by other big-name skiers like Bode Miller, Julia Mancuso and Sarah Schleper.

International ski teams will also be training at Vail this November, bringing even more recognition to Vail, Sutner said.

The Front Range is the core building block for Vail Mountain business, Sutner said, but it’s no longer the focus of major marketing efforts and spending.

“Their business is important and we love them, but we’re focusing on destination business,” Sutner said.

The Canadian, Mexican and Australian markets are where the company sees a lot of potential growth. Vail Mountain marketing has been spending a fair amount of time and energy focusing on those three countries, including a partnership with American Airlines to fill some of the void left by Mexicana Airlines’ bankruptcy, digital advertising in eastern Canadian provinces and special marketing efforts in Australia like lodging and ski lift ticket promotions.

Vail is spending “significant sums” directed to consumers in those key international markets for the first time, Sutner said.

Vail Resorts, a publicly traded company, can’t release specific numbers about the mix of destination visitors versus local and day-trippers that Vail Mountain seeks, but Sutner said destination visits are definitely the focus.

“The overwhelming percent of our mix should be the destination market, somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-plus percent,” he said.

Vail Mountain marketing is catering to markets like Mexico that already bring in so much business through programs like next spring’s Spanish-language night camp for children.

“We have to do everything we can not to take that business for granted,” Sutner said. “We have a unique footprint in Mexico and we ought to do everything we can to nurture it.”

Vail Mountain is also trying to fill voids in the 2010-11 ski season’s calendar, which has some challenging anomolies like a late Easter and Christmas which falls on a Saturday this year.

Spring Back to Vail might be longer next year in order to capture some of that late business, Sutner said.

Vail Economic Development Director Kelli McDonald asked whether the town and local businesses could do something within the community to provide more options for people here in late April.

Rayla Kundolf, Master’s Gallery director and Commission on Special Events member, said the town needs to stay open, for one.

The Vail Economic Advisory Council agreed a community meeting in advance of next year’s late Easter could get everyone on the same page about making sure Vail isn’t a ghost town when people are still here.

Sutner mentioned potential Vail Resorts promotions that would target the Mexican clientele who might not otherwise have incentive to stay in Vail for the second week of their holy holiday that falls the week before and the week after Easter. Vail Mountain’s closing day is Easter Sunday, meaning the Mexican customers might not want to stay here past that time.

Sutner said they might offer promotions such as Colorado Mountain Express rides to Arapahoe Basin for continued skiing in late April.

Vail Mountain has been working with the town of Vail’s Local Marketing District, which focuses on summer and shoulder season marketing, for the past two years to make Vail a distinctive, year-round brand.

“We’re pretty proud to say we know we have a powerful year-round brand that’s starting to look and feel the same to the outside world,” Sutner said.

Vail Mountain is branching out with its marketing strategies this year, incorporating everything from a 30-second advertisement during the Warren Miller movie premiere to a full-time video team dedicated to getting Vail’s assets on film and out to the masses through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

The resort is also focused on getting its guest satisfaction score on the rise again this year following encouraging results last year, Sutner said.

The U.S. Ski Team’s Vail presence this year won’t hurt, either.

When asked, Sutner said Vail is also happy with its No. 2 ranking in the latest Ski Magazine poll, although Vail Mountain guides its success by “our own internal compass, not by Ski Magazine’s compass.”

Deer Valley, which has taken the No. 1 spot four years in a row, isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison with Vail because of skier volume alone. Deer Valley puts a daily cap on how many skiers can hit the slopes, while Vail measures its success by its volume.

“We have a more diverse mix of skiers, certainly, than Deer Valley gets,” Sutner said. “We’re pretty happy with where we are.”

lglendenning@vaildaily.com