As we begin a New Year and end another busy holiday season, I want to express my gratitude for your tireless work and incredible commitment to our guests, to our resorts and to each other. I am in awe of everything you have accomplished to provide a great guest experience. I am using this moment to reflect on what has been a very challenging start to the 2021-22 ski and ride season, while also focusing on the critical months that lie ahead.
As a company, we began our preparations for this season before last season even ended. We knew staffing would be an issue given the impacts seen in the broader economy and in the rest of the travel and leisure industry – and our goal was to get ahead of it. In July, we announced a major investment into resort wages and benefits, including a significant increase to our minimum wage across all of our U.S. resorts. We also adjusted our operational approach to ensure we would utilize our staff in the most effective way possible, focusing our resources on roles that would maximize the guest experience.
Unfortunately, despite this preparation, we were impacted by another variable we had not anticipated: the fast-moving Omicron variant that hit our resorts hardest right as we were launching into our busy holiday period. Despite our employees being fully vaccinated, we still saw significant impacts to various parts of our operations as our employees appropriately stayed home when they had any COVID-19 symptoms. In a season where staffing was already going to be tight, COVID-19 exclusions created challenging impacts on operations broadly, including our ability to open terrain, as we will never open lifts or terrain unless we can do so safely.
While this dynamic has had an impact on parts of the mountain experience, I also know it has been tough on your personal employee experience. This season is weighing heavily on all of us – but the impacts of weather and staffing have been felt differently at each of our resorts, with a few of our regional resorts contending with additional challenges that have made your jobs even more difficult.
I want you to know, I hear you and I understand; this has been an incredible culmination of so many issues hitting all at once. I have been your CEO for two months now– and I have spent a lot of that time listening to our employees, reading your emails and reviewing the data and comments from our Continuous Listening surveys. While many companies are facing similar issues right now, there are unique lessons for our company and plenty of opportunities to improve. It will not be possible in the middle of a busy season to address all of them, but I am committed to diving in. What will be most important is communication and an open dialogue. I plan to continue visiting our resorts this season to hear from you directly, and your resort COO or GM will engage with you as well.
Based on what I have seen and heard so far, it is clear that there are actions that need to be taken this season and I will be sharing more thoughts on that very soon.
I also want to address the growth in our pass program. Everyone at Vail Resorts should be proud that our passes make our resorts more accessible and affordable to skiers and riders, including through our recent 20% price reduction. Our goal is to incentivize people to purchase their skiing and riding before the season begins, as a way to provide stability to our employees, communities and all of our stakeholders. It is important to note that a significant portion of these new pass holders used to purchase daily lift tickets; they are not all new guests. Additionally, we have found that pass holders tend to spread their visitation out throughout the season and even throughout peak periods. This was quite evident this holiday season, when daily peak visitation for individual resorts was not that different than previous years. Of course, with the very late snowfall and staffing limitations mentioned above, we did have some challenging lines in certain areas, as we often do in our holiday season. But this strategy around passes is critical to protect the sport we love, especially in the face of climate change. And yes, just like we need to invest in our guests we also need to continually invest in our resorts and in your employee experience. I am fully committed to this.
The mountain resort business is a highly complex operation. I truly believe that we will be most successful supporting and protecting our communities, our sport and our company, if we continue to operate and innovate together as one team. That said, I acknowledge that at times there will be clunky processes and missteps inside a company that is adding and integrating new resorts into its network. I apologize for anywhere where we have made it harder on you, but I am also very confident these challenges will be addressed – in both the short term and long term.
While our busiest time is behind us, we still have several important months of the ski and ride season ahead of us. The good news is, we anticipate seeing less impacts from Omicron in the coming weeks. Additionally, we continue to work hard to hire, train and deploy additional staffing resources. Our new operational plan and lift loading strategies are helping to minimize lines and are being optimized and refined every day. It is important to remember, that while there are challenges, there are many more examples of where, together, we have succeeded in providing our guests a wonderful holiday season in the mountains, even amid all the obstacles we face right now. Because delivering a great guest experience is what we do – and it is what we are focused on going forward.
Do we still have challenges we are working to address and opportunities to improve – yes of course. We are not perfect – no company is – but as we have always done, we will work together to harness the learnings from the season-to-date and take action. Our company is always willing to change. I know some of those changes are hard, especially in areas where we do not get the execution just right. But, being willing to change also means we will take the feedback in order to improve.
Thank you again for your tireless work and your ongoing commitment to our guests.