(Photo by Dean Krakel/The Colorado Sun)
After starting the past season trumpeting that it had sold a record number of advance lift tickets and passes, North America’s largest resort operator was vilified as it struggled to open enough lift chairs and handle crowds. In addition to pay bumps for both new and existing employees, the company has committed $4 million to boost staffing in Human Resources by 50%, and is adding 7,000 new housing beds at its properties.
Vail Resorts has pledged to spend $175 million more a year on employees at its 37 properties, increasing pay by more than 30% and bumping pay for new hires to $20/hour (both Canadian and U.S.), after a grueling season that saw North America’s largest resort operator vilified as it struggled to open enough lift chairs and handle crowds, The Colorado Sun reported.
Kirsten Lynch reached her 100th day as the new CEO of Vail Resorts after what was likely one of the most challenging 100 days ever for the publicly traded company, The Colorado Sun reported. The company had entered the season trumpeting that it had sold a record number of advance lift tickets and Epic Passes, but after the New Year’s holiday, national news reports started blasting the company for long lift lines, shuttered lifts and an emaciated workforce.
In a presentation to investors on Monday, March 14th, the company announced that with the start of the new season in October 2022 it will increase pay for all of its workers and hand out raises to longtime employees, in addition to the new starting pay rate, The Colorado Sun reported.
In her first 100 days, Lynch said, she reflected on “what is important and what our company must focus on as we move forward,” The Colorado Sun reported.
“Our top priority must be to support and invest in our employees,” she said, pointing to additional investments in wages, benefits, human resources support, housing and a new career development plan for seasonal workers, The Colorado Sun reported. “This incremental $175 million annual investment in the employee experience marks a new direction for our company.”
In a letter to employees that was titled “A New Direction,” Lynch said starting pay would be $20 an hour, The Colorado Sun reported. Ski patrollers, maintenance workers and commercial drivers would start at $21 an hour.
Heading into the 2021-22 ski season, Vail Resorts bumped its hourly rate to $15 an hour, The Colorado Sun reported. But it was not enough, as an unprecedented labor crisis continued to challenge the travel and tourism industries.
Shortly after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, Vail Resorts announced a $20 million investment for workers, offering an end-of-season bonus of $2 for every hour worked (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/vail-resorts-offers-bonus-for-employees-who-finish-the-season/).
In February 2022, rival operator Aspen Skiing announced it was spending $12 million to immediately increase base pay to $20 an hour and bump salaries by at least $6,240 a year, The Colorado Sun reported. Vail Resorts then said it would be increasing pay for salaried employees by 3% to 6%.
The company now says it is investing $4 million in human resources by adding 66 more HR workers, which is a 50% increase, The Colorado Sun reported. Last season the company reduced its HR workforce and moved HR operations to an app, which left workers grumbling.
Other perks for employees now include a 40% discount at all more than 200 company retail locations and a new leadership development program for seasonal workers who want to pursue a career in the ski industry, The Colorado Sun reported.
Lynch also told employees that the company would be adding to its 7,000 housing beds for workers at its resorts, The Colorado Sun reported. “We believe it’s time for us, and our communities, to make affordable housing a top priority and accelerate the processes to ensure we collectively make progress,” she wrote in her letter to employees
Vail Resorts also announced a new working policy that will allow the company’s employees at its corporate headquarters in Broomfield, Colo. to work from anywhere, marking a big move away from the company’s longtime strategy of centralized operations, The Colorado Sun reported. Corporate employees can now live in any state where the company operates.
Vail Resorts also plans to spend up to $327 million this year on 21 new chairlifts at 14 resorts, marking the largest one-time lift investment in North American resort history, The Colorado Sun reported.
Going into the 2021-22 ski season, Vail Resorts slashed the prices for its Epic Passes by 20%, The Colorado Sun reported. As the lifts began to turn late last year, the company reported it had sold a record 2.1 million passes and lift tickets, a 47% increase over the previous season. It also said it had $1.5 billion in cash on hand.
That news resonated as resorts with COVID-ravaged workforces were overwhelmed by typical-sized crowds drawn by winter storms, The Colorado Sun reported. The company told investors in its March 14th presentation that some of its resorts saw employee numbers decline by 10% due to COVID-19. Visits to its 37 North American resorts through March 6th were up 2.8% compared to the 2019-20 season, which was shortened by one month as COVID closed resorts in mid-March 2020. (The company, like most in the tourism industry, is not comparing results to the pandemic-impacted 2020-21 season.)
Visits on weekends and over the holidays so far this season have been flat, The Colorado Sun reported. But visits on weekdays and non-holidays are up 9%—growth that Lynch said “was an outcome we wanted to achieve, and we are pleased to receive.”
It is wrong to connect record pass sales with record crowds, Lynch said, noting that the holiday numbers were about the same as every season. Most of those 2.1 million buyers, she said, were existing customers who switched from buying lift tickets to purchasing passes and tickets in advance.
Through the first week of March, passholders accounted for 69% of visits to the company’s ski areas, compared with 56% at the same point in the 2019-20 season, The Colorado Sun reported.
“Pass growth does not equal visitation,” Lynch said. “Pass holders spread their visits across many resorts and different time periods. The outcomes of visitation we are seeing are very aligned with our strategy.”
Vail Resorts reported $906.5 million in mountain and lodging revenue for the three months ended Jan. 31, up 32% from the same period in the previous season, The Colorado Sun reported. In March 2020, the company reported $924.4 million in revenue for the busiest quarter of its fiscal year. Compared with the same period during the 2019-20 season, the company saw declines in ski school (down 8.9%), dining (down 27%) and retail (down 2.8%).
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