June 1, 2012

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Utah Business Staff

June 1, 2012

I wonder how much perception leads reality? A lot of us talk about how cruddy the skiing was—and it wasn’t. It was good skiing this year. I wonder if we shouldn’t push that out to all organizations in Park City and all their employees to stop talking about how poor it is. Really, it’s great. Just how much word of mouth pushes out into the ski world?

GOAR: Boy, did you hit the nail on the head. We, the three ski resorts, we talk about this all the time. Don’t complain that you didn’t get as many powder days. Think about the guests that are here and what a great time they are having. They absolutely had a great ski vacation.

One of the things that we’re seeing is a push toward more luxury accommodations here; we now have a diversity of lodging facilities. What else is going on at this point?

OLSEN: There’s a lot of new luxury product on the market now with the Waldorf, Stein, Montage, St. Regis and Hotel Park City and others. It’s opened up a whole new market to us. It used to be only Stein was perceived as that luxury product. And if you were looking to come to Park City or Deer Valley, there weren’t a lot of choices when you were looking at the highest-end, five-star properties. Now we’ve got a number of properties that fit into that category.

From a group perspective, we’re seeing people coming here that had never visited Park City in the past. The exposure has been phenomenal because people have got the word out and they know that Park City has luxury destination properties now where they can come and spend their dollars. So we’ve seen a very big uptick in the luxury market.

HAMAWAY: The reception to this market has been extraordinary. I always say the thousand-pound gorilla is Salt Lake airport, and we leverage it backwards and forwards. This summer it’s going to cost an average of $745 to fly round trip to Jackson Hole. And it’s going to cost an average of $335 to fly to Salt Lake. So you start to leverage that. From opening to date last year and this year to date, 80 percent of our convention room nights had never been to Utah before.

From a star standpoint, luxury is one of those double-edged words. We always want to be attainable. But from a national press standpoint, they don’t tend to write about two and three stars. They tend to write about five star. So the more exposure we have, the more the national press is going to talk about us. The more the national press is going to talk about us, the more development there will be. And it becomes this wonderful cyclical development ramp that’s going to happen here.

OLSEN: Those groups that come here, whoever they might be—it’s amazing how many of those people come back for a family vacation or a ski trip just on their own. You think of the group segment as a one-time shot, but it’s not. We’re seeing people come back and spend a lot of their dollars on a personal vacation. So it’s great exposure to get those groups here.

Do you think there’s more we could do to market that upper-end experience? Or does that make us sound too exclusive and then we cut out business?

HAMAWAY: In general, you market the destination. It’s very hard to market luxury without sounding too exclusive. We want to market to everybody and let people choose where the price point is that they feel comfortable and where they find value in the market.

The winter season here is great. Summer is the time that is difficult. When you look at the statistical variance between revenue and occupancy in the winter months compared to the big four—Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen, Jackson Hole—most of us do better than those markets. Where we absolutely lose it is when the lifts close; that statistical gap grows exponentially.

How do we fix it?

STARKS: From Heber Valley’s perspective, it’s not so much marketing the stars behind the hotel name as marketing the quality and the experience. We’re looking for somebody that wants to come for the complete experience, whether that’s golf or other things. In Heber Valley, it’s trying to take a good product and make it better. Knowing that there is this luxury market so close, they’re trying to capitalize on that and make the experience as positive as can be for the guests and provide the golfing, the tubing, the snowmobiling and a lot of these other packages as well.

You’re host to one of the great resorts in the country, Homestead, which has just reopened.

STARKS: Homestead is an icon—it’s something that certainly most Utahns are familiar with. But they saw the need to take it a step further to make it even better. So they closed for two or three months to renovate some of the rooms and some of the meeting space. They’re rebranding the golf course. It’s now called Crater Springs. They’re just trying to make this good product even better while maintaining the charm. That’s the key. They’re not trying to be a St. Regis or a Montage. They’re trying to be who they are.

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