Travel: Vail’s businesses look to attract younger visitors
VAIL — When Four Seasons Resort Vail revamped their bar and restaurant this spring, replacing dark, high-backed chairs and wood trim with a hip, modern design and wide-screen televisions, general manager Mark Herron began to see the results immediately. Younger patrons began coming through the doors, many of them for the first time.
The renovation is all part of the luxury hotel’s efforts to keep up with the increasingly younger crowd looking for unique experiences and a bustling vibe.
“Our average age is 45, and that demographic is getting younger,” said Herron.
The hotel will hold a grand opening for the new bar later this summer with a dance party DJed by Mix Master Mike. This infusion of big-city nightlife in Vail is just one way the town’s businesses are beginning to change their offerings for younger visitors.
Statistics showed that this year, Millennials (ages 18-34) took over as the largest American age group (24.5 percent of the population). They also spend a disproportionate amount of their income as a group on travel compared the generations before them, so marketers are scrambling to reach them.
A younger crowd
This marks the second summer that the Vail Farmers’ Market will hold their Farm to Table dinners. Executive Director Angela Mueller said the dinners are attracting a younger crowd than ever before, a shift she attributes to a growing interest among young people to find out how their food is produced and where it comes from.
“We really saw that at a Taste of Vail seminar we held this year — all the people were asking those questions were Millennials,” she said. “It’s the idea that we don’t have a farmer 10 feet from us, but we can expand that range and try to buy from farmers within 100 miles of us. There are many younger people who will come and spend that little extra.”
Some marketers think that more informal, organic-focused dinner experiences like the Farm to Table series might soon become more popular than traditional foodie extravaganzas like Aspen’s Food & Wine festival.
“Those kind of events may be on the way out. Millennials may soon view that as not for them, as something for older people. They’ll be looking for things like beer tours and behind the scenes cooking experiences,” said Danae Kingsley of advertising agency Goodness Manufacturing.
Meanwhile, the Vail Rec District has found a surge in attendance among a slightly different group — young families. Younger parents are not only traveling to compete in races, but bringing their kids with them. In fact, the VRD trail running series has had to expand their junior categories and add fun runs for kids after finding that many participants were coming from the Front Range and bringing their families.
“They were bringing their kids to run, and we said, ‘Well, we might as well do a fun run,’” said the VRD’s Jamie Gunion. “The fun runs are usually a mile or less and they have fun hoops and obstacles the kids go through. Vail is always trying to attract families, and this is one place we’ve really had to expand — the junior categories.”
Will they ski?
Nate Fristoe of marketing research company RRC told the town of Vail they weren’t remiss in looking into what makes Millennials tick. The town has been studying how to best attract younger visitors, and research shows that while Vail does draw people in their 20s and 30s, the town hasn’t seen much growth in that demographic for years.
“When you look at the skier base in America by age, there’s typically a dip in late 20s, early 30s because that’s when people are in the family and career building phase,” said Fristoe. “Then they come back later in life when their kids are a little older. Will this generation come back to us like the others did? There are good indicators in the data that maybe not.”
Today’s young people like to travel and are willing to spend money — just maybe on different kinds of things than generations before them, said Fristoe.
“One Millennial we spoke with booked travel and said they had customers who will stay at a hostel, but then make reservations at the French Laundry,” he said. “They are very savvy travelers. They have limited funds, but are willing to spend.”
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