Brands in the News

Vail’s Lift Line Branding Disaster

3 Mar 2020  

If you are a Colorado skier, you’ve probably seen videos of Vail’s absolutely incredible lift lines. If you haven’t, well, take a look.

The videos are terrifying for a skier; waiting in a lift line is always painful, but an epic lift line is astonishingly bad. Imagine being stuck in a line for an hour in the freezing cold. That is just not fun at all.

The lines formed in February when a huge snowstorm attracted massive numbers of skiers and shut down several lifts, forcing everyone into the same area. It was apparently an isolated event, but one that has likely done significant damage to the Vail brand.

Vail’s Problem

The problem is that the incredible lift lines received lots of attention. People shared the videos and the stories. I searched on Vail on YouTube, and found that five of the top ten video links showed the huge lines. The incident had led to discussions and articles about crowding at ski resorts. And Vail is mentioned every time.

This all shifts Vail’s brand and creates a mental link. When people think Vail, they now think crowded. For a resort that charges over $200 a day for a lift ticket, this is not a good thing.

No Easy Fix

There isn’t an easy way to fix a situation like this. Anyone that saw the line or was stuck in it has a story to tell, and they will tell it. It is impossible to pull down the terrifying videos. The story won’t go away.
Vail apologized for the situation and explained what happened, but this does little to erase the brand associations.

With time, perhaps the association of crowds will diminish. The problem is that every time there is a line, people will say, “I knew it! Vail really is absurdly crowded. We should go elsewhere for our ski trips.”

The Learning

The learning in this is clear – it is critical to proactively think about potential problems and develop contingency plans.

Vail clearly mishandled the situation. The resort could have stopped selling tickets that day, or offered everyone free food for an hour, to try to draw people away from the line. The company could have paid people $100 each to leave, or given everyone a $50 gift card for food and beverage.

There were lots of potential solutions, but the resort wasn’t prepared and didn’t take action, and suffered as a result.

What could go wrong on your brand? Do you have contingency plans in place?

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