MLK and Sundance conflict
January 11, 2013
In Utah and across the West, resort communities are gearing up for the next big national holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Not in Park City. Instead, locals are getting ready for a much bigger annual event, one of the largest events in the state: the Sundance Film Festival. Despite the influx of film goers in town, the booked hotels and the in-pour of reservations to restaurants, the three resorts in town already know that the conflict of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and the Sundance Film Festival will have an impact on their business. From ski school to on-mountain dining to lift tickets, what is usually the biggest ski vacation period during the month of January becomes an unseasonably slow time for business.
"Destination skiers are displaced to some degree when the MLK weekend and Sundance land on the same dates," said Mike Goar, the General Manager of Canyons Resort. "Rooms are taken up by Sundance visitors. So even though we are likely to see strong occupancy rates in hotels, what we don’t know is how many will actually be buying lift tickets. What we do know is that historically it has had an impact."
And the conflict is going to hit more than just this year if the nonprofit chooses to keep its set dates, with the 2013, 2014 and 2015 ski seasons affected each year overlapping the MLK holiday and the Sundance Film Festival. For months, community organizations, businesses and city officials have met in the hopes of resolving the conflict of dates.
"We’ve been talking about it for quite a while," said Coleen Reardon, the Director of Marketing for Deer Valley Resort. "We have not come to an agreement yet but we plan to reconvene discussions in February."
"The conflict, it has a huge impact as it relates to the resort’s skier visitors," she added. "Our lodging portion does really well, but as that translates down the line to skier visitor days, restaurant sales and ski school, we are really slow during this time period."
Park City businesses do better in January because of Sundance, nearly all business except the three resorts. January is typically one of the slowest months for resorts, said Ralf Garrison, the Director and Senior Analyst of the research company MTRiP, a lull between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays and President’s Day weekend.
"Christmas has an inherent demand for resort communities as a holiday," Garrison said. "When it is over, it is like starting a second season. People are asking, ‘Do we have demand? Are we going to build momentum?’ Typically, January is the slowest month of the season; then, February starts to get better; then March and finally April."
"Whether it is Sundance or MLK, both events generate consumers," he added. "It all answers to the same economic realities, creating demand in a low season to the benefit of all. Guests come and stay in town, but there are only so many beds available. The hotel doesn’t care, as long as beds are filled. The restaurants don’t care as long as tables are full. Only the resort cares about a conflict that drives business in another direction."
But resort business is the bread and butter of Park City, the business that feeds the community through the rest of the year. And other business groups support the idea of negotiating with the Sundance Institute to move the festival during years that will conflict with the MLK holiday. If successful, businesses will have two major events in town, freeing up lodging for MLK guests and still catering to the film festival in a historically low period for resort business.
"To see the real impact, we would have to look at month of January statistically," said Bill Malone, the CEO and President of the Park City Chamber/Bureau. "We will have to look at years where there is an overlap and compare to years when that did not occur. From what we have seen in the past, there is a sizable amount of difference in spending when that overlap does not happen.
"Obviously, there are different sides of the conversation. We are trying to take everything into consideration, but we are also closer to resolving this than we have ever been in the past."