Resort industry leader attributes pre-booked Tahoe vacations to stable revenue
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. andamp;#8212; Snow sport enthusiasts were likely suffering a andamp;#8220;snow hangoverandamp;#8221; last spring, according to Ralf Garrison, director of Denver-based Mountain Travel Research Program, an organization that provides marketing services and statistics to destination resorts around the country.Still reeling with exhilaration from the copious amounts of snowfall last winter, skiers and snowboarders booked their 2011-12 vacations well ahead of time, Garrison told his audience of businesspeople at the 37th annual Mountain Travel Symposium Wednesday at Squaw Valley.But after a warm and dry winter, during which bookings dropped off precipitously a few months into the ski season, the pre-booked reservations began to look not only like a godsend, but also a windfall, he said.andamp;#8220;The story between 2011 and 2012 is different indeed,andamp;#8221; said Garrison. andamp;#8220;You don’t need me to tell you that.andamp;#8221;The strength of the beginning of the season kept many establishments afloat when bookings lagged. But research collected by Garrisonandamp;#8217;s company near the end of the season also showed a slight increase in average total revenue brought in by U.S. destination resorts.He attributes the increase to a rise in room rates, a slightly improving economy and the stability of the destination resort business model.andamp;#8220;Economically, if you look at the season from a destination standpoint, there is a very different story from the lift ticket side of the equation,andamp;#8221; Garrison said. andamp;#8220;Destination travelers still spend money, but they spend it at shops and dining facilities rather than on a lift ticket.andamp;#8221;Visitors to a destination resort stay longer and come even when the snow is not cooperating, he said, as opposed to day skiers who often stay away when snow conditions are bad and donandamp;#8217;t spend as much money when they do arrive.Garrison challenged attendees to consider how they might drive their own business and create economically sustainable products in order to prevent a future marred by headaches.
Later Wednesday, a panel composed of Intrawest Chief Marketing Officer Ian Arthur, Vail Resorts Chief Marketing Officer Kirsten Lynch and Visit Florida Chief Marketing Officer J. William Seccombe discussed how businesses might market the mountain travel industry. The panel was moderated by James Chung, president of Reach Advisors.andamp;#8220;The strengths of the ski industry are strengths other industries would kill for,andamp;#8221; said Lynch, who previously worked on an oatmeal rebranding campaign. andamp;#8220;A fundamental strength of this business is how people connect to it.andamp;#8221;Hers was a point the entire panel agreed upon.andamp;#8220;There is great passion for various sports, but the difference with skiing is that there is a higher level of identification. I donandamp;#8217;t ski,andamp;#8221; said Arthur, andamp;#8220;Iandamp;#8217;m a skier. Skiing is a lifestyle, a community, and that sets us up for a lot of opportunities.andamp;#8221;The Intrawest brand bills itself as andamp;#8220;a leader in experiential destination resortsandamp;#8221; and has made a business around the creation of ski mountain real estate, such as ski mountain base villages and other all-inclusive, destination resorts. Those passionate about skiing advocate for skiing, added Seccombe.andamp;#8220;I can guarantee you that guy at the post office (in Florida) is not an excellent skier,andamp;#8221; he said andamp;#8220;but he talks about it like he is. Consumers like this share their experiences.andamp;#8221;The panel expressed uniform agreement that skier passion should be harnessed and used to market the industry.andamp;#8220;You can go on a ski vacation with your family. Itandamp;#8217;s a big deal. You play cards together, you hang out in the evening together. Youandamp;#8217;ll probably pass this on to your kids,andamp;#8221; said Arthur. andamp;#8220;We need to leverage this to grow the business.andamp;#8221;andamp;#8220;Certainly,andamp;#8221; said Chung, andamp;#8220;it’s not the surface level product, itandamp;#8217;s the emotion it engages.andamp;#8220;Exactly, but what do each one of our businesses do to tease that out?andamp;#8221; said Arthur.But the panel also agreed the issue was not about gaining market share. Today, when the total number of skiers has leveled out at 13 million, industry leaders must work together to bring more skiers and snowboarders into the market.andamp;#8220;How we expand the audience is really the question here,andamp;#8221; Arthur said.
Industry marketers have recognized for years barriers exist to enter into skiing or snowboarding. Not only is the sport expensive, but also the activities have a learning curve and require commitment to master.Many people, Arthur said, begin skiing only when they are invited to do so by friends.The panel discussed the need for innovation, creativity and risk-taking when attracting new markets.Lynch said the ski industry should borrow low-hanging fruit from other travel and tourism sectors by incorporating the marketing and management techniques of cruiseships, airlines and theme parks. She talked about the difficulties of schlepping an entire familyandamp;#8217;s ski gear from the airport to their accommodations, and how the ski industry can look to guest luggage management practices at Disney to help improve the experience.andamp;#8220;Marketing is no longer about us telling you all the good things we do,andamp;#8221; she said. andamp;#8220;Itandamp;#8217;s about what we know about you and what you need.andamp;#8221;And, of course, creativity is key, Seccombe said.andamp;#8220;We need to tap into new experiences,andamp;#8221; he said. andamp;#8220;There is great news; people are traveling, but they just arenandamp;#8217;t traveling here.andamp;#8221;The panel urged the audience to think beyond market share and to recognize families and travelers were selecting fro a variety of destination when choosing how to spend their vacation andamp;#8212; and their vacation dollars.andamp;#8220;If we as an industry grow the base,andamp;#8221; said Arthur, andamp;#8220;then all boats will rise.andamp;#8221;