As long as there have been destination resorts, there have been destination marketing efforts. Those efforts are changing, inviting people to come, but act responsibly.
For years, the Vail Local Marketing District Advisory Council has worked on attracting people to town in the spring, fall and summer. That effort expanded to winter a couple of years ago, as the town moved away from its winter reliance on Vail Resorts’ marketing programs.
As Vail’s nonwinter business has expanded, so have problems including trail crowding and litter on those trails.
In response, the local marketing district has recently tied a sustainability campaign into its marketing efforts.
“The last few years have really changed how destination marketing organizations look at their roles. Historically, our primary focus has been to promote our destination and now, we are shifting to both promote and protect what makes Vail so special,” advisory council chair Esmarie Faessler said in a news release. “We have made educating our guests and local residents on key sustainability practices an important part of our outreach efforts.”
Vail isn’t alone in that effort.
More than numbers
“The old goal of destination marketing was (attracting) as many people as possible,” Tom Foley said. Foley is the Senior Vice President of Business Process and Analytics at Inntopia, a market analysis company. “The focus now is the equivalent of a work-life balance; how do you get people to come, and appreciate the destination,” Foley added.
There’s been a shift over the years to something called “destination management,” and it’s becoming more common in destinations around the world, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Foley noted that a number of destinations were talking about destination management ahead of the pandemic. Hawaii in particular has always been “very, very careful,” about welcoming guests, Foley said. Guests arriving by plane are sniffed by trained dogs, not for drugs, but to ensure guests aren’t bringing in invasive species. A flower, or its seeds, or contaminated soil could harm Hawaii’s unique ecosystem.
While destination management isn’t new, Kim Langmaid thinks Vail is roughly up to date with its efforts.
Langmaid, a Vail Town Council member and the founder of the Walking Mountains Science Center, said Vail’s efforts reflect a need to be proactive about protecting what brings people to town.
Langmaid added that Vail’s sustainability efforts also reflect a growing desire by travelers to visit places that take care of their natural setting.
Those efforts seem to be ramping up again post-pandemic.
Meredith MacFarlane, general manager of Vail’s Four Seasons Resort and Residences, said that the property had to “put a pause on sustainability” during the pandemic. The property started again handing out single-use water bottles.
“We had a very fancy water and coffee machine installed, and people couldn’t use it,” MacFarlane said.
Now, she added, the Four Seasons group as a whole has launched a “huge drive to make up the ground we lost,” putting a new focus on everything from recycling to eliminating single-use plastics.
“As a brand, we’re in unique destinations, so we’re in a unique position to try to make this work,” she said.
In Vail, Faessler said that the growth in occupancy outside the winter months has put a focus on marketing the destination’s “need periods” — times of lower occupancy. But, she added, that has to be done in a responsible way.
Vail business owner and real estate broker Mark Gordon said focusing on destination management is a good move for Vail.
“I’ve been an advocate for a holistic approach to the economy,” Gordon said. “Our success relies very much on appealing to multiple constituencies.” That includes visitors, full-time and part-time residents, business owners and others.
Those who come for a while “still need to be made aware of how incredibly great Vail is,” Gordon said, adding that disregarding any of those groups will throw the resort out of balance, which could lead to failure.
Focusing on sustainability is still marketing, Gordon said. “All those constituencies want to come to Vail and stay in Vail — it’s a place they want to spend time,” Gordon said.
Langmaid said marketing sustainability depends as much on local infrastructure as on educating visitors.
“It’s a two-way street,” Langmaid said. “On the one hand, we can help educate and promote ourselves to responsible travelers. On our end, we need to have systems in place to do the right things — and we also need to do the right things.”