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The TA talks Vail and winter bookings

Industry-wide “snow hangovers” possibly impacting low early-season bookings

By Cayla Vidmar

John Norton, executive director of the Gunnison/Crested Butte Tourism Association (TA) gave the Board of County Commissioners a rundown on TA and Vail marketing relations, the continuance of the $250,000 in-lieu-of airline guarantee payment from the ski resort, and the state of lodging bookings for the 2018/19 season, in November.

“The [Vail Resorts] closing happened at a late date,” said county commissioner Jonathon Houck. “As the snow starts to fly, they’re being handed keys to the resort.”

This caused some foot-dragging in winter marketing for the TA, according to Norton, who was hoping to get on the same page with Vail in terms of winter messaging. “[Vail] has advertised Crested Butte as the epic mountain with the highest percentage of beginner and intermediate terrain, and the lowest percentage of advanced,” said Norton. “That will attract the skier that likes us least and not attract the skier that likes us most.”

Norton said the TA advertises steep skiing and “a really cool place to be,” and wants to work with Vail in creating a cohesive marketing message. He noted that historically Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) and the TA had two different marketing messages during the winter. “We don’t want to go out with our messaging hoping to hear from Vail about where they’re settling down on the brand, because they’re going to be the driver of the winter message,” said Norton, noting that the TA was about two months behind on their marketing due to the shift to Vail.

During the commissioners’ meeting, Norton voiced his concern about the $250,000 that CBMR has traditionally paid to the TA to help market the air program to fill airline seats. He said that while Vail has agreed to give the money this year, they have not committed to pay the guarantee into the future. The TA has been putting that money to use this year, Norton said. “With the $250,000 we’re going out to market with steep skiing and cool community messages, because we’ve heard nothing else.” He wrote via email that he hopes Vail will see the pickup in the airline seat sales and will want to continue paying the $250,000 into the future.

Norton noted that they’ve seen a bump in VRBO rentals this season, but not in the traditional commercial lodging arena. Andrew Sandstrom, the TA’s public relations manager, said, “February and March are up in a big way,” while noting that November and December were down slightly, which he attributed to a “snow hangover effect.”

Sandstrom said, “The bad snow last year has people leery about booking early,” which he explained is something they’re seeing industry-wide, across all the mountain valleys. “The thought was that bad snow last year slowed early bookings this season,” Sandstrom wrote in an email.

Sandstrom explains that the TA has 11 properties, ranging from short-term rentals to big players in the commercial lodging industry valley-wide that report monthly data. Sandstrom believes the data from those 11 properties offers an accurate representation of what is happening in terms of overall lodging bookings.

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