PARK CITY, Utah — The Park City Chamber of Commerce held its annual Tourism Fall Forum on Wednesday.
Kelly Pawlak, president and CEO of the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), kicked things off by talking about how the ski industry has changed due to COVID-19.
She said the NSAA has estimated that the national industry lost roughly $2 billion due to the pandemic.
The trade association’s mantra for the upcoming season is “Know Before You Go.” While skiers and snowboarders can prepare for a return to normalcy this season while outdoors, each ski area has a different approach to indoor Covid protocols.
For example, Park City Mountain will require proof of vaccination to dine indoors on mountain, while Deer Valley will not (learn more about protocols at Utah resorts).
“Most ski areas will not have any lift restrictions,” Pawlak said. “You may see more restrictions indoors. You may be asked to mask or to show proof of vaccination if you’re staying at a particular lodging facility.”
Pawlak said last year 51% of skiers had a season pass, compared to 38% ten years ago. “It’s growing in popularity,” she said. “Overall, the ski industry is healthy and stable. Our key indicators are the surge in outdoor recreation skier days, the number of participants, the consistent guest satisfaction scores, more focus on the staff experience… and capital investment.”
She said the number one issue facing the industry is climate change. Pawlak applauded Park City’s leadership in spearheading Mountain Towns 2030.
After Pawlak’s talk, a panel was held, which included Ski Utah President and CEO Nathan Rafferty, Park City Mountain Chief Operating Officer Mike Goar, and Deer Valley Resort Vice President of Marketing Coleen Reardon. It was moderated by Parkite Tom Kelly.
Kelly asked Goar, who has worked in Colorado, California, and Arizona — what makes Park City unique?
“The Utah ski industry is the most collaborative bunch,” Goar said. “There’s a greater good for our communities, our employees, and our guests when we collaborate and we’re able to provide the very best product possible.”
Goar said he felt the relationships Vail Resorts has with the trade associations along with local and state government are unique.
“This is my favorite Summit County,” Goar said. He previously was the CEO of a resort in Colorado’s Summit County.
“People are ready to come back,” Rafferty said, expecting a very successful season. “There’s some pent-up demand.” He said he’s excited to welcome international travel.
“All of our advanced booking channels are ahead of pace and we’re actually ahead of pace for 2019, which was going to be a record year before the wheels came off and Covid happened,” Reardon said of Deer Valley.
“Everything has changed,” she said regarding the effects of the pandemic.
Rafferty said it has pushed resorts to be more innovative. “It really forced some of the changes to allow you to be able to buy a ticket online beforehand,” he said. “It’s really about managing the guest experience and making that a little bit easier.”
Goar said Vail learned a lot about managing crowds. “Getting folks on the lift, shortening their wait time,” he said. He referred to the new features in their EpicMix app which will calculate and project lift wait times throughout the day.
The discussion ended with a focus on labor shortages and workforce housing.
Goar highlighted the current development in Canyons Village, which will have 1,100 units by next summer. “How great will it be… for our employees to be able to live in the community,” he said.
In regards to staffing, he said “we reflect the rest of the community.”
“It’s going to be a challenge the whole winter,” Reardon said of Deer Valley. “We’re going to have to pitch in to make it a good experience for our guests… there’s no magic bullet.”
“I don’t even know how to emphasize the challenge.” She said the sad part about the pandemic is how many workers have decided to leave the hospitality industry.
Goar said that people should be patient with resort employees, saying that they don’t get a pat on the back enough.
The chamber is currently conducting a Global Sustainable Tourism Council assessment. The findings will guide the bureau’s actions moving forward, as they look to strike a balance between a strong tourism economy and a quality home for locals.
Preliminary results are expected in early January.