As recession ravages their assets, the rich retrench

In Vail, Colo., the luxury ski resort, lodging occupancy is down over previous years, says Chris Romer, vice president of sales and marketing for the Vail Valley Partnership. But many of the bookings were made at the last minute, in large part because of special offers: lower prices, extra days, free meals. And, he says, family restaurants are packed at Vail, while average tabs at luxury restaurants have fallen. For the first time, the town of Vail has started its own marketing campaign to lure skiers.

When will the luxury market come back?

It depends, to some extent, on public attitudes toward wealth. At Symbolic Motor Car Co., which sells Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, Lotus and Spyker, business is slow, says general manager Graham Cox. To some extent, that's to be expected in a slow economy. "We're not on the list of everyone's priorities."

But the slowdown may be due, in part, to a recognition that this economic slowdown seems worse than most. After all, the wealthy can still afford fancy cars. But going luxe may be seen as déclassé in an ailing economy, Graham says.

"The wealthy still have the wealth," he says. "It's the image you project in a bad economy of driving a nice car when your friends or colleagues may be losing their businesses."

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