Mountain Travel Symposium: Tourism leaders peg hopes on summer

Elise Reuter
The Summit Daily News
RRC Associates Director of Consulting Services Dave Belin and Forum Producer Bruce Rosard discuss expanding summer season tourism.
Courtesy of Katie Girtman |

When most people picture a mountain vacation, the image of snow covered peaks, a family ski trip or a cozy day spent by the fire come to mind. But during Thursday’s forum at the Mountain Travel Symposium, the focus shifted to the drawing visitors during the summer months.

“It could be a quick weekend getaway, or it could be your classic bucket list road trip that takes you to all of the national parks,” said Dave Belin, director of consulting services for market research company RRC Associates. “Summer is the biggest travel season in the U.S. The number of vehicles traveling per month increases.”

He and three other panelists discussed the “drive market,” or tourists who travel by car or bus rather than by plane. During the winter, a considerable amount of skier visits are already drivers. In the summer, this number increases.

“The drive market is so much bigger than the fly market, and it’s so important to all our resorts,” he added. “Even our big destinations that we think of as places people fly to, in the summertime, not that many people fly to these destinations.”

“Summer is the biggest travel season in the U.S. The number of vehicles traveling per month increases.”

Dave Belin
Director of Consulting Services for RRC

A large portion of drivers visit from large metropolitan areas, such as New York City, Boston, Denver and San Francisco, to name a few.

When it comes to the younger generations, the challenge is reaching millennials and GenZ-ers who drive less frequently.

“They don’t like to drive as much as our generation,” Enthusiast Network executive vice president Norb Garrett said.

However, he added there were advantages in marketing to both generations.

“One of the things we’ve embraced, as challenging as the millennial is, they’re also an incredibly connected group,” he said. “Social media has allowed us to better target and reach these folks through fantastic storytelling and content opportunities.”


While summer tourism has grown significantly in the mountains over the past few years, resorts and towns alike are bringing in events to help further drive the season. For example, Colorado-based entertainment company Human Movement Management is working with the town of Dillon to host the world’s highest triathlon in September.

“This is one of those proprietary events that you can’t duplicate,” CEO Jeff Suffolk said. “This will create 10,000 visitors on a weekend that’s usually dead.”

The event was a long time coming — the company applied for a special-event permit through Denver Water nearly 10 years ago, as swimming is restricted in Lake Dillon’s frigid waters.

“That’s our challenge, how do we get the non-skiers up during the summer time?” he asked.

His advice to businesses around the country? Make use of the unique resources you have. In Dillon’s case, this was the reservoir.

“The metrics are mind-blowing,” he said. “We’re creating customers, which is the point. It’s fantastic.”

He added another way for resorts to create a successful event is to work with brands that are already partners.

“It’s one of the trends we’re seeing a lot,” he said. “Once you become an established event, all those years of marketing have paid off.”

Mike Solimano, general manager and president of Killington Ski Resort in Vermont, added they had recently incorporated the Dirty Girl Mud Run as one of their summer events and had expanded their mountain bike trails to accommodate more beginner riders.

“We’ve been focused on summer,” he said. “Specifically on events, trying to create momentum and critical mass every weekend.”

The challenge, he added, was expanding those events to retain guests for the entire weekend, rather than just a day visit.

“We’re trying to get to those types of events that help everybody (in the town),” he said.

In some cases, even the simplest options can be effective in drawing visitors beyond the usual ski crowd.

“A lot of these people have never been on a chairlift before, and that is like an amusement park ride to them,” Belin said.


According to lodging metrics supplier DestiMetrics, LLC, summer occupancy has increased progressively over the past few years.

“Summer has been a big topic in the mountains for the last five years now,” operations director and senior analyst Tom Foley said. “This story speaks for itself. It’s a phenomenal story. Last year, we set our third consecutive all-time summer record in occupancy, ADR (average daily rate) and revenue growth.”

As the summer months approach, he estimated this year would be up once again. With slightly more inventory, markedly lower rates and a growing market, he added the summer season brings new opportunities for lodging.

“There’s so much difference in rates, so much room to play with,” he said. “What we learn about rate gain and tolerance in the winter might inform how we want to deal with the summer.”

Over the past few years, both summer and winter rates have increased sharply, but winter rates are still significantly higher. However, the rate of summer-winter occupancy is progressively nearing parity.

“The resorts are getting very good at driving summer business,” Foley added.

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