Don't be left in the dust

Steamboat Springs on cusp of major economic shift

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The Boomers are coming. The Boomers are still coming.

If there has been an underlying theme since the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association kicked off its annual series of economic summits, it's been about the Baby Boomers. Ford Frick of BBC Research told the audience at the original summit in 1996 that when the largest generation in American history reached the prime second-home buying age of 55, its most affluent members would begin transforming the economies of mountain resort towns.

It turns out Frick was right.

Chamber Marketing Director Lynna Broyles said we now know that Baby Boomers have arrived in Steamboat in large numbers to purchase second homes. She expects they will continue traveling to the community for probably another couple of decades. Wise business owners already have begun to make plans to adapt to the Boomers' preferences, Broyles said.

"It's time to prepare," Broyles said. "We're just on the cusp of it. In 20 years, these Baby Boomers are still going to be traveling. You'll be left in the dust if you don't start making plans to adapt."

Broyles is one of many presenters scheduled to speak about emerging trends in marketing, technology and workforce issues during Economic Summit 2006 on Thursday at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel. She'll share the speakers' dais with Andy Wirth of the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., Scott Ford of the Small Business Development Center, and Colorado State University Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow. They plan to answer the question, "Who's our customer today and into the future?" The intent is to use demographic studies to paint a picture of Steamboat visitors and residents to better understand their changing needs and perceptions.

Broyles said interviews held with visitors in 2004 show that families still represent Steamboat's dominant tourist category, and "empty nesters" rank second. She's interested to find out whether the gap has closed as the Chamber renews that survey this summer.

The majority of Steamboat's summer visitors have household incomes in excess of $100,000, and 26 percent had 2004 household incomes greater than $150,000, Broyles said.

Although Baby Boomers rank second in terms of numbers of summer visitors to Steamboat, they definitely have more expendable income, Broyles said.

And although Steamboat always will be an adventure travel destination for young adults, astute businesses and tour operators might profit from offering milder adventures such as historical and cultural tours, she suggested.

"Baby Boomers might enjoy a walking tour of a working ranch as opposed to working on the ranch," for example, Broyles said.

The diverse nature programs offered by the nonprofit Yampatika are another on-target example, Broyles said.

"They have a product that will be very desirable," she said.

Broyles thinks Steamboat always will cater to families in summer, but the Chamber's Marketing Committee is studying a multi-generational approach -- by late winter 2007, she said the plan is to use photographs that portray a grandfather, adult son and grandson enjoying trout fishing in the Yampa Valley, for example. Or perhaps, a Latino grandmother, adult daughter and granddaughter on a wildflower hike.

There are signs this spring that affluent travelers are on the way. Broyles said local property management companies say they have heavier than usual bookings for this time of year at their undiscounted rates.

AAA reported this month that among Colorado destinations, Denver, Durango and Steamboat lead the state in hotel bookings.

Despite high fuel prices, AAA expects more Americans to travel during the coming Memorial Day weekend. AAA Denver reports that the highest Memorial Day visitation will be in Denver, Aspen, Colorado Springs, Alamosa (Sand Dunes National Park) and Steamboat.

"I think there are a lot of changes in our future," Broyles said. "I'm interested to see how it will all play out."

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