Guess what? The ‘destination’ visitor never existed
The legendary destination visitor never really existed.As the town of Breckenridge moves to take more of your money through a sales tax increase, it’s conducting a survey to ask business owners – not the general taxpayer – whether businesses would support an increase in marketing funding, which is the stated use of the money to be raised by a half-cent increase in your sales tax.These marketing funds, more than $1 million annually, would be used to help Breckenridge (the town, not the resort) stay competitive and fund the pursuit of the legendary “destination visitor.” The town might as well try and sell VCR’s in today’s DVD world, because there is not now, nor has there every been, any such animal as a destination visitor, and when anyone says that the goal must be to get more destination visitors, they are either woefully underinformed, or have a marketing degree.Consider this. In 1994, the typical white male booking a family ski vacation by phone or mail was presented by Breckenridge with a single, just one, product option – a six night minimum stay set by the lodging industry, preceded by a 21-day advance purchase requirement from the airlines, with a five-day lift ticket good only at one ski area. In 1994, lodging was at a premium and the airlines had yet to face competition among themselves, so both industries could enforce minimums and advance purchases and unintentionally combine to give the consumer only one option.This scenario created the illusion of something called a destination visitor, the family that absolutely wanted to stay all week and do nothing but ski. However, as the number of condos in Summit County grew by 5, 8, 10 percent a year, the six-night minimum slipped as a result of oversupply to five, then four, then three now two nights.At the airlines, a twenty-one day advance purchase became 14 days, then seven and, as with the lodging industry, last-minute deals became the norm. As a result, today’s family, now likely as not with a single head of household, can choose the trip length that fits its needs while skiing where it wants.And the families that truly wanted to spend a solid week each year on the slopes? They bought a time share or they built a home. If anyone can be called a destination visitor, it’s these folks, but they’ve dropped out of the lodging statistics even though they’re still coming to town.The destination skier is, and was, an illusion, a chimera created by a time when resort towns offered a single product, the six-night alpine vacation, and sold it by mail or phone. To get more destination skiers, the town, and all the other ski towns across the U.S. as well, would have to tear down hundreds of condos and timeshares to reduce the lodging supply, and somehow force United Airlines to reinforce a 21-day advance booking.And they’d have to get the resort to go back to a fixed-price daily lift ticket good only at Breckenridge and nowhere else.Yes, the ski resort helped kill the illusion of a destination visitor, not through the Buddy Pass, but through a blizzard of lift ticket options, two day, two of three day, three of four day, good at Breckenridge and the Basin and Vail and Beaver Creek and Keystone, and on and on, all of which gave the consumer flexibility and mobility. Flexible lodging and lift tickets allowed visitors to ski where they liked, and to take a day off from skiing and enjoy other activities, like the day spa, dog sledding, ice skating and more.Ironically, to market its many options, the resort, like many businesses in Breckenridge, hasn’t doubled its marketing budget.While marketing today is more hands-on, requiring more networking and contacts, more personal service to accommodate the instant gratification afforded customers via the Internet, or in person with better staff and staff training, the dollars spent by most smart businesses is flat or down.Moreover, in 2004 the resort’s marketing is very focused on producing results solely for Vail Resorts Inc. and not for the town in general. But that’s what happens when businesses go public; results take a higher priority than less tangible benefits.But the essence of marketing remains unchanged, knowing what you’re selling, and to whom, and in the new millennium, the town can’t sell a destination visit to a destination skier. The town is in the multi-option, maximum-flexibility, price-competitive, one-stop shopping, short-term vacation industry. Spending more money on marketing won’t increase business if you try and sell what no one really wanted in the first place.Marc Carlisle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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