ASPEN, CO: Denver-based Vanguard Communications has taken on two Aspen clients, and is searching for more as it tries to reposition the ski resort as an affordable vacation destination.
Media coverage of Hollywood celebrities and other glitterati going to Aspen "does not help Aspen's reputation with the typical mainstream traveler," said Ken Hunter, a VP at Vanguard.
The resort needs to attract a wider audience. While Aspen hotel bookings have been up slightly this season as compared to last, the area has been suffering through a four-year slump, Hunter explained.
In response, the agency has created a new website, Aspen TravelSmart, to feature special deals from Aspen hotels and other establishments.
The agency's first two Aspen clients, Aspen Square Hotel and the Hotel Durant, have agreed to offer special rates on the site. The Durant is offering 20% off its usual rates. The Aspen Square is offering a special $199 rate.
Hotel rooms in Aspen during the peak winter skiing season average $297 a night, Hunter said. "A lot of hotels don't have rates that would be affordable for a weekend ski-trip vacation for most people," he noted.
Vanguard is supporting the new website with a media relations campaign aimed at travel writers at the 50 largest newspapers across the US. Its press releases discuss deals available to Aspen visitors, ski conditions, and local activities. "Travel writers have heard about Aspen, but they probably all have that same idea of it. We want to get them to realize Aspen isn't all about glitz," Hunter said.
The agency is charging minimal fees to its first clients. The Durant is paying $350 a month, while the Aspen Square is paying $900 a month.
The higher fee includes press releases as well as e-mails sent to travel writers.
The agency plans to send out six releases from January through April, and will make follow-up calls to writers.
Hunter has already been working with a Wall Street Journal writer, hoping that coverage in the Journal will spur other media to reconsider Aspen as a travel destination.
The agency feels that once it can demonstrate the value of PR, other Aspen hotels, restaurants, and local businesses will sign onto the program.
"We're hoping this will pay off down the road," Hunter said. "Right now, this is a loss leader for us. We're hoping by summertime this will be a lot bigger. We're nearly giving it away just to make inroads into Aspen." The agency wants to sign 15 Aspen clients by the summer.